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Looking back at 2018: Why I changed my mind about the Apple Watch’s data plan

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In early 2018, I did some math and came to the conclusion that I was paying AT&T too much for monthly service on my Apple Watch Series 3. The peace of mind, at that time, just wasn’t worth the $13 or so I was paying each month on top of my wireless plan.

Also: I canceled my Apple Watch Series 3 data plan and here’s why

I canceled my Apple Watch’s data plan and enjoyed the additional battery life that I gained from turning off the cellular functionality on the watch.

The feedback I received from that article was mostly positive, with fellow users echoing the sentiment that paying $10 a month for the minor amount of data a smartwatch uses is too expensive.

I kept the data plan disabled until the Apple Watch Series 4 was announced — when I once again ordered the cellular model. After it arrived, I reactivated my plan, and I’ve been paying for cellular connectivity on my watch.

My original thinking was that I would test out the watch and watchOS 5 (which improved the Music experience and added the Podcast app), with the added benefit of a cellular connection, and then, ultimately, I’d cancel the data plan again.

Admittedly, I haven’t used standalone connectivity on the Series 4 any more than I did when I had it the Series 3. In fact, I’ve probably used it less, if that’s even possible. But I don’t anticipate canceling my watch’s cellular plan this time around.

So, why the change of heart? It’s a combination of a few things.

Freedom from my phone


(Image: Jason Cipriani/CNET)

It still fascinates me that a set of Apple’s AirPods and a watch on my wrist is all I need to leave my phone behind and remain reachable.

I mean, think about that: A watch and a pair of Bluetooth headphones — it doesn’t even have to be Apple’s AirPods, but they’re my choice — and you have what amounts to a smartphone with you at all times.

Text messages, emails, phone calls, even FaceTime audio calls, Facebook Messenger, music, calendar… it’s all there, on my wrist. But at the same time, the interaction dynamic between the watch and myself is different from the iPhone.

Also: Apple Watch’s Walkie-Talkie is practically useless

With the phone, I can pick it up at any time and get lost in Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, or my inbox. The phone is always there, ready to waste my time.

With the watch, the experience is limited enough that the idea of managing my inbox or finding a third-party app to browse social networks on the small screen isn’t appealing at all. Instead, interactions with the watch are simply to react to notifications, which I have pared down significantly.

In the end, the watch eliminates my habitual routine of bouncing between apps just because my phone is there.


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I need to get into the habit of leaving my phone at home and being comfortable with communicating from the watch. I think my biggest hangup about doing that right now is having to talk to the watch like I’m Dick Tracy while out in public. Granted, I could use Scribble to reply to messages, but longer messages make Scribble feel laborious.

Fall detection

With the launch of the Apple Watch Series 4, Apple added a new fall detection feature. Basically, if your movement mimics the motion of a person falling, then the watch will ask if you’re injured. After about a minute of no movement or interaction with the watch, it will automatically call emergency services and send a message to your emergency contacts with your current location.

Also: Apple Watch Series 4: How to enable fall detection CNET

I’m not accident prone by any means. Heck, I can’t remember the last time I slipped and fell, but knowing that if something did happen — especially while on a business trip, when I’m typically by myself — I would have the means to get help and let my wife know what’s going on. It’s reassuring.

Always connected peace of mind

Another reassuring aspect I’ve enjoyed about wearing an always-connected watch is knowing that, if my iPhone were to get damaged or the battery dies, I’m still connected.

Also: Does your iPhone need a new battery? Get it done now

It seems small, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve been out and about, realized my phone’s battery is draining without a charger nearby, only to find comfort in knowing that even if it does die, I can just use the watch to stay in touch.

Cost is still an issue

Don’t get me wrong, I still think the $10 a month for a watch that uses very little data is too expensive. I still want to see the monthly cost absorbed by what I already pay AT&T for my phone’s data plan.

Also: AT&T to launch 5G across 19 cities

Data plans are going to have to change, after all, with the launch of 5G networks.

The irony of carriers talking up the ability to download gigabytes of data at gigabit speeds on a 5G connection while charging $10 a month (before taxes) for something that sips on megabytes is not lost on me.

Here’s hoping 2019 ushers in a new way of thinking about connected smartwatches.

Previous and related coverage:

Apple Watch Series 4 review: Best for iPhone owners, but not the best smartwatch

Apple’s latest wearable improves exactly where customers wanted to see improvements; larger viewable area, longer battery life, and enhanced health and fitness functionality. It’s a marvel of technology, but Samsung does it better for less.

Apple Watch Series 3 review: Always connected, just without the guilt

Apple’s newest smartwatch is smarter in that it’s always connected, but is it worth the cost?

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Facebook launches a series tests to inform future changes to its News Feed algorithms – TechCrunch

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Facebook may be reconfiguring its News Feed algorithms. After being grilled by lawmakers about the role that Facebook played in the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the company announced this morning it will be rolling out a series of News Feed ranking tests that will ask users to provide feedback about the posts they’re seeing, which will later be incorporated into Facebook’s News Feed ranking process. Specifically, Facebook will be looking to learn which content people find inspirational, what content they want to see less of (like politics), and what other topics they’re generally interested in, among other things.

This will be done through a series of global tests, one of which will involve a survey directly beneath the post itself which asks, “how much were you inspired by this post?,” with the goal of helping to show more people posts of an inspirational nature closer at the top of the News Feed.

Image Credits: Facebook

Another test will work to the Facebook News Feed experience to reflect what people want to see. Today, Facebook prioritizes showing you content from friends, Groups and Pages you’ve chosen to follow, but it has algorithmically crafted an experience of whose posts to show you and when based on a variety of signals. This includes both implicit and explicit signals — like how much you engage with that person’s content (or Page or Group) on a regular basis, as well as whether you’ve added them as a “Close Friend” or “Favorite” indicating you want to see more of their content than others, for example.

However, just because you’re close to someone in real life, that doesn’t mean that you like what they post to Facebook. This has driven families and friends apart in recent years, as people discovered by way of social media how people they thought they knew really viewed the world. It’s been a painful reckoning for some. Facebook hasn’t managed to fix the problem, either. Today, users still scroll News Feeds that reinforce their views, no matter how problematic. And with the growing tide of misinformation, the News Feed has gone from just placing users into a filter bubble to presenting a full alternate reality for some, often populated by conspiracies theories.

Facebook’s third test doesn’t necessarily tackle this problem head-on, but instead looks to gain feedback about what users want to see, as a whole. Facebook says that it will begin asking people whether they want to see more or fewer posts on certain topics, like Cooking, Sports, or Politics, and more. Based on users’ collective feedback, Facebook will adjust its algorithms to show more content people say they’re interested in, and fewer posts about topics they don’t want to see.

The area of politics, specifically, has been an issue for Facebook. The social network for years has been charged with helping to fan the flames of political discourse, polarizing and radicalizing users through its algorithms, distributing misinformation at scale, and encouraging an ecosystem of divisive clickbait, as publishers sought engagement instead of fairness and balance when reporting the news. There are now entirely biased and subjective outlets posing as news sources who benefit from algorithms like Facebook’s, in fact.

Shortly after the Capitol attack, Facebook announced it would try clamping down on political content in the News Feed for a small percentage of people in the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Indonesia, for period of time during tests.

Now, the company says it will work to better understand what content is being linked negative News Feed experiences, including political content. In this case, Facebook may ask users on posts with a lot of negative reactions what sort of content they want to see less of.

It will also more prominently feature the option to hide posts you find “irrelevant, problematic or irritating.” Although this feature existed before, you’ll now be able to tap an X in the upper-right corner of a post to hide it from the News Feed, if in the test group, and see fewer like in the future, for a more personalized experience.

It’s not clear that allowing users to pick and choose their topics is the best way to solve the larger problems with negative posts, divisive content or misinformation, though this test is less about the latter and more about making the News Feed “feel” more positive.

As the data is collected from the tests, Facebook will incorporate the learnings into its News Feed ranking algorithms. But it’s not clear to what extent it will be adjusting the algorithm on a global basis versus simply customizing the experience for end users on a more individual basis over time.

The company says the tests will run over the next few months.

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Instagram launches tools to filter out abusive DMs based on keywords and emojis, and to block people, even on new accounts – TechCrunch

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Facebook and its family of apps have long grappled with the issue of how to better manage — and eradicate — bullying and other harassment on its platform, turning both to algorithms and humans in its efforts to tackle the problem better. In the latest development, today, Instagram is announcing some new tools of its own.

First, it’s introducing a new way for people to further shield themselves from harassment in their direct messages, specifically in message requests by way of a new set of words, phrases and emojis that might signal abusive content, which will also include common misspellings of those key terms, sometimes used to try to evade the filters. Second, it’s giving users the ability to proactively block people even if they try to contact the user in question over a new account.

The blocking account feature is going live globally in the next few weeks, Instagram said, and it confirmed to me that the feature to filter out abusive DMs will start rolling out in the UK, France, Germany, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in a few weeks’ time before becoming available in more countries over the next few months.

Notably, these features are only being rolled out on Instagram — not Messenger, and not WhatsApp, Facebook’s other two hugely popular apps that enable direct messaging. The spokesperson confirmed that Facebook hopes to bring it to other apps in the stable later this year. (Instagram and others have regularly issued updates on single apps before considering how to roll them out more widely.)

Instagram said that the feature to scan DMs for abusive content — which will be based on a list of words and emojis that Facebook compiles with the help of anti-discrimination and anti-bullying organizations (it did not specify which), along with terms and emoji’s that you might add in yourself — has to be turned on proactively, rather than being made available by default.

Why? More user license, it seems, and to keep conversations private if uses want them to be. “We want to respect peoples’ privacy and give people control over their experiences in a way that works best for them,” a spokesperson said, pointing out that this is similar to how its comment filters also work. It will live in Settings>Privacy>Hidden Words for those who will want to turn on the control.

There are a number of third-party services out there in the wild now building content moderation tools that sniff out harassment and hate speech — they include the likes of Sentropy and Hive — but what has been interesting is that the larger technology companies up to now have opted to build these tools themselves. That is also the case here, the company confirmed.

The system is completely automated, although Facebook noted that it reviews any content that gets reported. While it doesn’t keep data from those interactions, it confirmed that it will be using reported words to continue building its bigger database of terms that will trigger content getting blocked, and subsequently deleting, blocking and reporting the people who are sending it.

On the subject of those people, it’s been a long time coming that Facebook has started to get smarter on how it handles the fact that the people with really ill intent have wasted no time in building multiple accounts to pick up the slack when their primary profiles get blocked. People have been aggravated by this loophole for as long as DMs have been around, even though Facebook’s harassment policies had already prohibited people from repeatedly contacting someone who doesn’t want to hear from them, and the company had already also prohibited recidivism, which as Facebook describes it, means “if someone’s account is disabled for breaking our rules, we would remove any new accounts they create whenever we become aware of it.”

The company’s approach to Direct Messages has been something of a template for how other social media companies have built these out.

In essence, they are open-ended by default, with one inbox reserved for actual contacts, but a second one for anyone at all to contact you. While some people just ignore that second box altogether, the nature of how Instagram works and is built is for more, not less, contact with others, and that means people will use those second inboxes for their DMs more than they might, for example, delve into their spam inboxes in email.

The bigger issue continues to be a game of whack-a-mole, however, and one that not just its users are asking for more help to solve. As Facebook continues to find itself under the scrutinizing eye of regulators, harassment — and better management of it — has emerged as a very key area that it will be required to solve before others do the solving for it.

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Facebook is expanding Spotify partnership with new ‘Boombox’ project – TechCrunch

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Facebook is deepening its relationship with music company Spotify and will allow users to listen to music hosted on Spotify while browsing through its apps as part of a new initiative called “Project Boombox,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Monday.

Facebook is building an in-line audio player that will allow users to listen to songs or playlists being shared on the platforms without being externally linked to Spotify’s app or website. Zuckerberg highlighted the feature as another product designed to improve the experience of creators on its platforms, specifically the ability of musicians to share their work, “basically making audio a first-class type of media,” he said.

We understand from sources familiar with the Spotify integration that this player will support both music and podcasts. It has already been tested in non-U.S. markets, including Mexico and Thailand, and it’s expected to arrive in about a week.

The news was revealed in a wide-ranging interview with reporter Casey Newton on the company’s future pursuits in the audio world as Facebook aims to keep pace with upstart efforts like Clubhouse and increased activity in the podcasting world. 

“We think that audio is going to be a first-class medium and that there are all these different products to be built across this whole spectrum,” said Zuckerberg. “Of course, it includes some areas that, that have been, you know, popular recently like podcasting and kind of live audio rooms like this, but I also think that there’s some interesting things that are under-explored in the area overall.”

Spotify has already supported a fairly productive relationship with the Facebook and Instagram platforms. In recent years the music and podcasts platform has been integrated more deeply into Instagram Stories where users can share content from the service, a feature that’s also been available in Facebook Stories.

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