Bill Gates on His 15-Year Plan, Capitalism’s Downside, and Measles at Disneyland


Gates visits an agricultural processing center in Ethiopia in March 2012.

Gates visits an agricultural processing center in Ethiopia in March 2012. Gates Foundation



Bill Gates proves that one person can make a difference—if he happens to be the richest person in the world. Since forming the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—and especially since leaving Microsoft in 2008 to dedicate himself full-time to the foundation’s work—Gates and his wife Melinda have emerged as two of history’s most powerful philanthropists, funding efforts from polio eradication to sewage-treatment plants, and setting the agenda for aid organizations around the world. They have convinced 127 fellow billionaires to sign their giving pledge, an oath to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropic organizations. Today, the Gates Foundation has an endowment of $42 billion, almost four times the size of the Ford Foundation, and it distributes between $3 and $4 billion every year. As WIRED Science writer Maryn McKenna put it a few years ago, “Where Gates goes, governments and the media follow.”

So when Gates releases his annual letter each January, summarizing the foundation’s progress and laying out its priorities for the coming year, the world pays attention. Last year’s edition, a feisty debunking of “myths” about poverty, went viral. This year’s letter, co-written by both Bill and Melinda Gates and released today, is even more ambitious than usual. Titled “Our Big Bet for the Future,” it lays out a series of goals for the next decade and a half—cutting childhood deaths by half, eradicating polio and three other diseases, and making Africa capable of feeding itself, among others. Altogether, the letter predicts, “the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history.”


The letter is modeled on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, a set of 15-year targets that expire this year and that Gates refers to as “one of the most important documents the UN ever did.” Representatives from every country in the world signed the goals in 2000, pledging among other things to reduce extreme poverty by 50 percent, slash child mortality by two thirds, and cut the maternal mortality rate by three quarters. Although not every target was reached—a full report card can be found here—the document is generally credited with focusing global aid efforts and providing a yardstick against which they can be measured. The UN is set to introduce a new set of development goals this September, and some observers worry that they will be a disappointment rather than an inspiration. Writing for the Guardian, Kevin Watkins frets that the discussions to date have been “hampered by a paralyzing lack of ambition, weak leadership, and the absence of a credible agenda to galvanise public engagement.”


That certainly does not describe this year’s Gates letter, the most rabble-rousing edition to date. Toward the end, the Gateses announce Global Citizens, a new program to educate and inspire action among the general public. “We want to give global citizens a way to lend their voice, urging governments, companies, and nonprofits to make these issues a priority,” the letter explains. In particular, the Foundation will ask its Global Citizens to push for a meaningful reboot of the UN’s Millennium Goals, and to hold their governments accountable for meeting those targets. It’s a surprisingly populist approach for the Foundation, which has tended to turn to billionaires for the bulk of its support.


In a wide-ranging phone conversation, WIRED spoke with Gates about this year’s letter, global inequality, and President Obama’s tax proposals. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.


The UN is working on its update to the Millennium Development Goals. How do you think it’s going?


We’re definitely on track. It will be a much longer document, and a broader set of goals than the MDGs were.


But the MDGs were so powerful because they were so succinct. Do you worry that if these goals become too broad, it will be harder to keep people focused?


That absolutely is a concern that I have. Then again, there are unfinished MDGs, and they will always have a very unique position. Key things like child health are so critical. If you have malnutrition you can’t do education very well.


I do think the new document will be so long that fewer people will read the whole thing. Then again, when we talk about books like the Koran or the Bible, not everybody reads every word of those things. I think of the MDGs like the Ten Commandments.


You operate from the belief that the world is radically improving in the fields of health, agriculture, and poverty. But there’s one area that you flick at in this letter where things seem to be getting worse, and that’s climate change. We’ve just learned that 2014 was the hottest year on record. Tech solutions are being developed, but they’re facing headwinds—be it political stagnation or extremely cheap gas prices. Do you have the same sense of optimism when you look at energy?


I have billions invested in various energy-related things—like battery companies, or cheaper ways of making electricity. I have a company that’s working on something called fourth-gen nuclear, this new super-safe nuclear design. So I think it is feasible to have energy sources that are even cheaper—although, as you say, that benchmark gets tougher as the price of natural gas and oil are so low.


There’s no doubt that we’re going to have some warming even as we start to deploy these solutions, because of the lags in the system. Nathan Myhrvold has written a few articles on this, about how even if you do the right things you still have some locked-in change.


I’ve been a big proponent that rich world governments should raise their energy R&D budgets. It is possible—based on the basic science of big energy, nuclear fuels, the photons that hit the earth from the sun—to have cheap energy. In the meantime we have to do some adaptation, which is mostly investing in agricultural systems so that farmers in the areas that will be most affected can have enough productivity and enough storage so that if they have lean years, their kids are not significantly malnourished.


You’ve dedicated a ton of resources to delivering vaccines to remote areas of the world. It must drive you nuts when people in the rich world choose not to vaccinate their kids.


I just read this book called On Immunity: An Inoculation —which is so well written, it’s unbelievable—that talks about this. It’s a little bit unsurprising considering you’re saying to parents, “Hey, take this needle and inject it into your kid! Honestly, we’re sure that it does no harm!” It really takes explaining to people why this is not only beneficial to their child but to society as a whole.


The anti-vaccination crowd, it’s very unfortunate. They create risk and in some cases there have been pertussis-based deaths and measles deaths. Those are the two that show up pretty quickly when you get any group of kids that haven’t been vaccinated. People thought, “OK, we have the Internet, information will get out there.” But misinformation got out there as well.


I do think we’ll keep vaccination rates high in the US. Rationality will succeed. But it will take cases like this Disneyland thing to remind people how irresponsible it is. The science about the safety is very, very strong.


Another source of discouraging data: income inequality. You’ve read Thomas Piketty’s Capital, and had nice things to say about it. But you also said that some inequality is built into the capitalist system, and the question is when it begins to do more harm than good. Has inequality become a hinderance?


I don’t think in some huge way. Of course, at a global level, income inequality is going down, because countries like China and India are getting richer much, much faster than the rich world is getting richer. So the overall picture on income inequality is very, very positive. And yet, each country has to look at the fact that, because of the nature of capitalism, there’s a tendency at the country level to have greater inequality unless you have tax policies to moderate it. So it’s a great democratic debate: What should those tax policies be? For the one country whose tax policies I know, the US, I’ve been in favor of more progressive tax approaches.


I also think philanthropy, although not a total solution to it, does moderate the problem. Especially if those who have been lucky give of their time and money to causes—like improving education or health—that speak to the most basic inequities.


So it’s a great topic for debate. A democracy is a self-correcting system, and over time I’d expect them to get it right. The founders were a little worried that the masses would get rid of capitalist incentives by going too far, but at least in the US that certainly hasn’t been a problem. The system has worked well for hundreds of years.


We’re speaking the day of the State of the Union. What do you think of the President’s tax proposals?


I don’t know the specifics very well so I really can’t comment. Just being pragmatic, the likelihood of a change in the tax system is fairly low. But I’ll be very interested. He no doubt will be promoting things that are progressive in nature so it’ll be interesting to see what he picks.


Let’s talk about your Global Citizen Initiative. This seems like a departure for you. How did it come about?


Some 6.5 million children die every year. There’s a subset of that where there’s an earthquake or flood, and people are so anxious to give and help. It reminds you that when people can connect and have an image of what’s going on, in those acute situations, they care and are willing to get involved. But 98 percent of childhood death comes from chronic, ongoing things, not those headline, one-time events. It’s malaria every day, diarrhea every day, pneumonia every day. The idea is that, if you sign up, on an ongoing basis, a few times a month we’ll give you an update on how things are going. It won’t just be a headline about an earthquake.


The idea is getting people to use their voice to say their governments should continue to be generous on aid. We’re dealing with tight budgets. Even countries that have been generous, like the Netherlands or Australia, have made cuts to their aid budgets. And within the universe of NGOs, some are agricultural, some are environmental, some are health, you can pick one of those that you want to dive down into and get involved with.


That is a new thing. We’re not sure how well that will resonate. But we do think people’s basic morality, the desire to care about humanity broadly, that it’s fairly timely. There’s a bit of a vacuum there. There’s not an alternate way for people to grab on and see how they might contribute more.


At the same time, critics have grown dismissive of “clicktivism,” little bursts of online activity that don’t result in any sustained commitment or change. How do you keep this from being a mile wide and an inch deep?


The starting point is very shallow. But the beauty is you can use that to get in more deeply. If you sign up to be a global citizen, we won’t send you too much email but we’ll say, “Hey, if you’re interested in going to Africa, not only can you do some interesting fun things, but you’d have a chance to get exposed to these issues, see this stuff on the ground.” Once you do that, people tend to get hooked. They’ll see something and latch onto it—a particular village or disease.


But you’re right. Just because we have 10 million global citizens who give us their email address, that’s not our final metric. That’s a starting metric. The metric I care about is people who get involved in real activism, really take trips, really start donating and volunteering. This is just a gateway toward deeper involvement, if we do our job right.



Bill Gates on His 15-Year Plan, Capitalism’s Downside, and Measles at Disneyland


Gates visits an agricultural processing center in Ethiopia in March 2012.

Gates visits an agricultural processing center in Ethiopia in March 2012. Gates Foundation



Bill Gates proves that one person can make a difference—if he happens to be the richest person in the world. Since forming the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—and especially since leaving Microsoft in 2008 to dedicate himself full-time to the foundation’s work—Gates and his wife Melinda have emerged as two of history’s most powerful philanthropists, funding efforts from polio eradication to sewage-treatment plants, and setting the agenda for aid organizations around the world. They have convinced 127 fellow billionaires to sign their giving pledge, an oath to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropic organizations. Today, the Gates Foundation has an endowment of $42 billion, almost four times the size of the Ford Foundation, and it distributes between $3 and $4 billion every year. As WIRED Science writer Maryn McKenna put it a few years ago, “Where Gates goes, governments and the media follow.”

So when Gates releases his annual letter each January, summarizing the foundation’s progress and laying out its priorities for the coming year, the world pays attention. Last year’s edition, a feisty debunking of “myths” about poverty, went viral. This year’s letter, co-written by both Bill and Melinda Gates and released today, is even more ambitious than usual. Titled “Our Big Bet for the Future,” it lays out a series of goals for the next decade and a half—cutting childhood deaths by half, eradicating polio and three other diseases, and making Africa capable of feeding itself, among others. Altogether, the letter predicts, “the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history.”


The letter is modeled on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, a set of 15-year targets that expire this year and that Gates refers to as “one of the most important documents the UN ever did.” Representatives from every country in the world signed the goals in 2000, pledging among other things to reduce extreme poverty by 50 percent, slash child mortality by two thirds, and cut the maternal mortality rate by three quarters. Although not every target was reached—a full report card can be found here—the document is generally credited with focusing global aid efforts and providing a yardstick against which they can be measured. The UN is set to introduce a new set of development goals this September, and some observers worry that they will be a disappointment rather than an inspiration. Writing for the Guardian, Kevin Watkins frets that the discussions to date have been “hampered by a paralyzing lack of ambition, weak leadership, and the absence of a credible agenda to galvanise public engagement.”


That certainly does not describe this year’s Gates letter, the most rabble-rousing edition to date. Toward the end, the Gateses announce Global Citizens, a new program to educate and inspire action among the general public. “We want to give global citizens a way to lend their voice, urging governments, companies, and nonprofits to make these issues a priority,” the letter explains. In particular, the Foundation will ask its Global Citizens to push for a meaningful reboot of the UN’s Millennium Goals, and to hold their governments accountable for meeting those targets. It’s a surprisingly populist approach for the Foundation, which has tended to turn to billionaires for the bulk of its support.


In a wide-ranging phone conversation, WIRED spoke with Gates about this year’s letter, global inequality, and President Obama’s tax proposals. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.


The UN is working on its update to the Millennium Development Goals. How do you think it’s going?


We’re definitely on track. It will be a much longer document, and a broader set of goals than the MDGs were.


But the MDGs were so powerful because they were so succinct. Do you worry that if these goals become too broad, it will be harder to keep people focused?


That absolutely is a concern that I have. Then again, there are unfinished MDGs, and they will always have a very unique position. Key things like child health are so critical. If you have malnutrition you can’t do education very well.


I do think the new document will be so long that fewer people will read the whole thing. Then again, when we talk about books like the Koran or the Bible, not everybody reads every word of those things. I think of the MDGs like the Ten Commandments.


You operate from the belief that the world is radically improving in the fields of health, agriculture, and poverty. But there’s one area that you flick at in this letter where things seem to be getting worse, and that’s climate change. We’ve just learned that 2014 was the hottest year on record. Tech solutions are being developed, but they’re facing headwinds—be it political stagnation or extremely cheap gas prices. Do you have the same sense of optimism when you look at energy?


I have billions invested in various energy-related things—like battery companies, or cheaper ways of making electricity. I have a company that’s working on something called fourth-gen nuclear, this new super-safe nuclear design. So I think it is feasible to have energy sources that are even cheaper—although, as you say, that benchmark gets tougher as the price of natural gas and oil are so low.


There’s no doubt that we’re going to have some warming even as we start to deploy these solutions, because of the lags in the system. Nathan Myhrvold has written a few articles on this, about how even if you do the right things you still have some locked-in change.


I’ve been a big proponent that rich world governments should raise their energy R&D budgets. It is possible—based on the basic science of big energy, nuclear fuels, the photons that hit the earth from the sun—to have cheap energy. In the meantime we have to do some adaptation, which is mostly investing in agricultural systems so that farmers in the areas that will be most affected can have enough productivity and enough storage so that if they have lean years, their kids are not significantly malnourished.


You’ve dedicated a ton of resources to delivering vaccines to remote areas of the world. It must drive you nuts when people in the rich world choose not to vaccinate their kids.


I just read this book called On Immunity: An Inoculation —which is so well written, it’s unbelievable—that talks about this. It’s a little bit unsurprising considering you’re saying to parents, “Hey, take this needle and inject it into your kid! Honestly, we’re sure that it does no harm!” It really takes explaining to people why this is not only beneficial to their child but to society as a whole.


The anti-vaccination crowd, it’s very unfortunate. They create risk and in some cases there have been pertussis-based deaths and measles deaths. Those are the two that show up pretty quickly when you get any group of kids that haven’t been vaccinated. People thought, “OK, we have the Internet, information will get out there.” But misinformation got out there as well.


I do think we’ll keep vaccination rates high in the US. Rationality will succeed. But it will take cases like this Disneyland thing to remind people how irresponsible it is. The science about the safety is very, very strong.


Another source of discouraging data: income inequality. You’ve read Thomas Piketty’s Capital, and had nice things to say about it. But you also said that some inequality is built into the capitalist system, and the question is when it begins to do more harm than good. Has inequality become a hinderance?


I don’t think in some huge way. Of course, at a global level, income inequality is going down, because countries like China and India are getting richer much, much faster than the rich world is getting richer. So the overall picture on income inequality is very, very positive. And yet, each country has to look at the fact that, because of the nature of capitalism, there’s a tendency at the country level to have greater inequality unless you have tax policies to moderate it. So it’s a great democratic debate: What should those tax policies be? For the one country whose tax policies I know, the US, I’ve been in favor of more progressive tax approaches.


I also think philanthropy, although not a total solution to it, does moderate the problem. Especially if those who have been lucky give of their time and money to causes—like improving education or health—that speak to the most basic inequities.


So it’s a great topic for debate. A democracy is a self-correcting system, and over time I’d expect them to get it right. The founders were a little worried that the masses would get rid of capitalist incentives by going too far, but at least in the US that certainly hasn’t been a problem. The system has worked well for hundreds of years.


We’re speaking the day of the State of the Union. What do you think of the President’s tax proposals?


I don’t know the specifics very well so I really can’t comment. Just being pragmatic, the likelihood of a change in the tax system is fairly low. But I’ll be very interested. He no doubt will be promoting things that are progressive in nature so it’ll be interesting to see what he picks.


Let’s talk about your Global Citizen Initiative. This seems like a departure for you. How did it come about?


Some 6.5 million children die every year. There’s a subset of that where there’s an earthquake or flood, and people are so anxious to give and help. It reminds you that when people can connect and have an image of what’s going on, in those acute situations, they care and are willing to get involved. But 98 percent of childhood death comes from chronic, ongoing things, not those headline, one-time events. It’s malaria every day, diarrhea every day, pneumonia every day. The idea is that, if you sign up, on an ongoing basis, a few times a month we’ll give you an update on how things are going. It won’t just be a headline about an earthquake.


The idea is getting people to use their voice to say their governments should continue to be generous on aid. We’re dealing with tight budgets. Even countries that have been generous, like the Netherlands or Australia, have made cuts to their aid budgets. And within the universe of NGOs, some are agricultural, some are environmental, some are health, you can pick one of those that you want to dive down into and get involved with.


That is a new thing. We’re not sure how well that will resonate. But we do think people’s basic morality, the desire to care about humanity broadly, that it’s fairly timely. There’s a bit of a vacuum there. There’s not an alternate way for people to grab on and see how they might contribute more.


At the same time, critics have grown dismissive of “clicktivism,” little bursts of online activity that don’t result in any sustained commitment or change. How do you keep this from being a mile wide and an inch deep?


The starting point is very shallow. But the beauty is you can use that to get in more deeply. If you sign up to be a global citizen, we won’t send you too much email but we’ll say, “Hey, if you’re interested in going to Africa, not only can you do some interesting fun things, but you’d have a chance to get exposed to these issues, see this stuff on the ground.” Once you do that, people tend to get hooked. They’ll see something and latch onto it—a particular village or disease.


But you’re right. Just because we have 10 million global citizens who give us their email address, that’s not our final metric. That’s a starting metric. The metric I care about is people who get involved in real activism, really take trips, really start donating and volunteering. This is just a gateway toward deeper involvement, if we do our job right.



Bitcoin Exchange Operator Sentenced to 4 Years for Silk Road Transactions


Robert Faiella (L), the accused co-conspirator of Bitcoin promoter Charlie Shrem (not pictured), walks out of federal court in Lower Manhattan, New York September 4, 2014.

Robert Faiella (L), the accused co-conspirator of Bitcoin promoter Charlie Shrem (not pictured), walks out of federal court in Lower Manhattan, New York September 4, 2014. Adrees Latif/Reuters/Corbis



A Bitcoin exchange operator who pled guilty to supplying $1 million in digital currency to people buying drugs on Silk Road was sentenced to four years in prison Tuesday.


Robert Faiella, who used the name BTCking online, had been arrested last year and charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. He had been charged along with Charlie Shrem, former CEO of the Bitcoin exchanger BitInstant. Shrem was sentenced last month to two years in prison.


According to court documents, from December 2011 until October 2013 when Silk Road was seized by federal agents, Faiella, 55, operated a Bitcoin exchange on the Silk Road site that allowed drug buyers and sellers to anonymously exchange cash for Bitcoins — the only currency used on the Silk Road site to buy drugs and other paraphernalia marketed through the site. Faiella obtained the Bitcoins through BitInstant, then sold them at a profit to Silk Road users.


Authorities say Shrem knew about Faiella’s activities and personally processed his orders, giving Faiella a discount on high-volume trades of Bitcoins that he purchased for Silk Road buyers. Faiella exchanged tens of thousands of Bitcoins a week for Silk Road users until the site was closed by authorities in October 2013.


To purchase Bitcoins for use on Silk Road, Faiella submitted orders to BitInstant specifying the number of Bitcoins he wanted to purchase and provided an email address. A third company, which handled the cash transactions, replied with an email instructing where to deposit the cash. The latter included a handling fee attached to it that was designed to help the company identify each transaction to the proper purchaser.


For example, one handling fee might be .32 cents, another would be .45 cents. Customers would be told to pay $200.32 or $200.45, with no customer being given the same handling fee on the same day so that the company could deposit the Bitcoins into the proper anonymous account.


Customers would then deposit the cash in person at the specified local bank, directing the money to a bank account owned by the cash-processing firm. Once the cash deposit was verified, the Bitcoins were transferred to the customer’s Bitcoin account of choice.


Faiella promised in an advertisement for his service that Bitcoins would be deposited so fast that they would likely be in the buyer’s Bitcoin account before they returned from the bank.



A Key Issue in Obama’s State of the Union: Advocating for Women at Work


US President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill, January 20, 2014.

US President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill, January 20, 2014. Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images



President Obama covered a wide range of topics during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, from cybersecurity to international relations to education. But between discussion of immigration, climate change, and foreign relations, another big idea kept popping up. Many of the President’s proposals involved improving the lives of women, particularly in the workplace, something he believes will be critical to ensuring the country’s economic strength.

This isn’t an altogether new thing for this President or the Democratic party. Winning favor with female voters has been a key mission of President Obama’s tenure in office from the outset, starting with the passage of The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act just days after his inauguration in 2009. That piece of legislation, the first President Obama signed in office, made it easier for people to challenge their employers on issues of unequal pay, which disproportionately impact women.


Then, last year, he issued an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from punishing workers who discuss salaries, and he has been a vocal supporter of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which the Republican party has repeatedly shot down.


On Tuesday night, President Obama took up the cause once again, advocating for a number of changes that would both directly and indirectly influence women’s ability to participate and thrive in the workplace.


Affordable Childcare


The first of these proposals was the creation of more affordable childcare options.


As one Pew report recently noted, the number of stay-at-home mothers in the U.S. is on the rise after several decades of declines. And according to the report, one key reason for that may be that the cost of childcare is also on the rise, forcing some women who would have preferred to pursue a career to stay home with their children instead. Obama aims to change this.


“It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us,” he said during the State of the Union.


Paid Maternity Leave


He also broached the topic of paid sick and maternity leave, noting that the United States is the only “advanced country on Earth” that doesn’t guarantee either to its workers. That leaves 43 million Americans with no access to paid leave.


The President said he would work with states to develop paid leave laws and asked Congress to vote on legislation that would provide these benefits to every American worker.


Closing the Gap—and More


Once again, he stressed the need for legislation to close the gender wage gap, guaranteeing female employees pay that is equal to that of their male counterparts. “It’s 2015,” President Obama said. “It’s time.” And he laid out a wide range of other goals that would disproportionately benefit women, including a proposal of a $3,000 tax break per child, per year.


According to a recent Pew study, single mothers account for one quarter of U.S. households, and according to the Census Bureau, about half of kids with single moms live in poverty. So though this tax cut would benefit members of both sexes, it stands to have a more dramatic impact in the lives of single moms living in poverty.


The Thrust


The thrust of the argument behind many of these programs is the idea that it’s not sexism holding women back in the workplace, but logistics. During a recent talk at the Clinton Global Initiative, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — widely expected to make her own run for President again in 2016 — shared many of the same thoughts about closing the gender gap in business.


At the time, she said that in not offering working women “support systems,” including free preschool and maternity leave, the U.S. government is forcing them to make a choice between working and caring for their families. “Those are not just nice luxuries for women,” Clinton said. “They would fundamentally free up women to be in the workforce if they had the skills and desire to do so.”


The odds are slim that President Obama will be able to enact such legislation within his last two years in office. But one thing is for sure: the Democratic party is preparing to make the role of women in the workplace a key battleground of the 2016 election.



Review: LG G Watch R


LG G Watch R: Finally, a smartwatch that looks like a real watch. LG's first Android Wear gadget was bulky and weird, but the new G Watch R is rounded and sleek. Its 1.3-inch P-OLED display is fully circular with 320 x 320 pixels resolution and a 300-nit luminance that's bright enough for the outdoors. There's a heart-rate sensor on the back. It's launching in October and we expect it to cost around $200, maybe more.

LG G Watch R: Finally, a smartwatch that looks like a real watch. MAURIZIO PESCE





Note: The first review unit we received of the LG Watch had problems. After working with Google to identify what the problems were, I was sent a replacement watch that works as intended. I was finally able to test all of the watch’s capabilities, and I’ve arrived at a new set of impressions based on my time testing a fully working unit, so we’ve updated the review to reflect this. If you want to read the previous version, we’ve left it live on the website. But this is a review of the version of the watch you can expect to get if you buy one today.

Despite being one of the first two Android Wear watches you could buy, LG didn’t really make much of a splash with the original G Watch. It was pretty bland-looking, particularly when compared to the beautiful round Moto 360. Now, LG is back with a round watch of its own.


The LG G Watch R, which, despite having too many individually separate letters in a single product name, is undeniably a massive improvement over the original G Watch. The only problem is that’s actually not much of an achievement. The better way to measure its worth is to compare it to the most well-received smartwatch so far, the Moto 360. Let’s start with looks.


Both watches are made of stainless steel, and both feel very solid. The 360 has a very thin bezel (which comes in silver or dark gray), whereas the G Watch R is thicker, and has some numbers permanently etched into the rim. This looks pretty good if you choose a watch face with analog hands, but it seems superfluous and out of place if you have a digital clock.


The G Watch R is a good deal heavier, weighing in at 62 grams versus 43 on the Moto 360. That makes the watch 44 percent heavier, and it’s definitely a difference you can feel on your wrist. It feels more like a heavy-duty GPS-laden triathlon watch. The G Watch R’s body is 2.17 inches in diameter, versus 1.81 inches for the Moto 360. Technically, that makes the LG 20 percent bigger on your wrist, and yet, the 1.56 inch diameter screen on the Moto 360 is 20 percent bigger than the 1.3 inch LG. In other words, with the Moto 360 you get a fifth more screen size for a fifth less wrist real estate, which is good.


But displays are about more than just size. For starters, the Moto 360 has the infamous “flat tire” at the bottom of the screen. This is where the display drivers live, which is how Moto kept the bezel so thin. What this means, though, is that there’s a big dark chunk missing at the bottom of the Moto 360’s screen, and it’s hard to unnotice it. At the same time, I found that large blocks of text (like emails, or even text messages) were generally easier to read on the Moto 360, and that was really just because it has more width. The G Watch R also uses an OLED display vs IPS on the Moto. I found that the inky blacks on the G Watch R were generally more pleasing to the eye, and OLED typically uses less power as well.


Speaking of power, the G Watch R mops the floor with the Moto 360. It has a 410mAh battery—28 percent larger than the 320mAh on the Moto 360—and that difference shows. The Moto 360 generally makes it to the end of the day if you have it set to the mode where the screen is always on (called “ambient mode”). If you want to stretch it to 24 hours, you’ll have to turn ambient mode off and manually wake up the screen with a tap or a gesture. In contrast, the G Watch R generally makes it 40+ hours before it needs a charge, and that’s with ambient mode on! Having to charge it less is a big win.


Another clear win for the LG (at least on paper) lies in the horsepower. The Moto 360 runs a geriatric TI OMAP 3 processor that is not only slow, but is known to hemorrhage battery life. The G Watch R has the new 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 under the hood, which helps make it extremely snappy. While Android Wear is still prone to the occasional bugginess, I found that there was minimal lag while using the G Watch R.


Aside from that stuff, these watches are more alike than different. Both have 4GB of storage, both are water resistant (i.e., fine for the shower, but don’t go swimming), both have optical heart rate sensors, and neither have built-in GPS or standalone wireless connectivity. There’s a little differentiation in the sensors, though. The Moto 360 has an ambient light sensor, so it can dim the screen when it’s dark. This is actually a pretty great feature. All other Android Wear watches require you to adjust the brightness manually, which can be annoying. On the other hand, the G Watch R has a barometric altimeter, so it can display your elevation (along with a compass) on some of its custom watch faces. Theoretically, it could be used to track how many floors you climb in a day (Fitbit does this), but that hasn’t been integrated.


So that’s the technical stuff. What’s more important, though, is what it’s like to use them.


LG's G Watch R can display different Android Wear faces.

LG’s G Watch R can display different Android Wear faces. LG



Despite the fact that both watches use leather bands, it feels as if the hide were cut from two very different animals. LG’s strap is extremely stiff. It feels like it was cut from some mythical Cardboard Beast. In contrast, the leather on the Moto 360 feels like it came off an angel’s butt. Combine that with its lightness and its smaller footprint, and the Moto 360 is unquestionably the more comfortable of the two.


While there’s no accounting for taste, I can’t imagine I’ll be in the minority when I say the Moto 360 is far better looking. Yes, despite the flat tire and the less poppy screen, the design on the Moto 360 is just plain nice. It’s extremely simple and yet it feels elegant. You could wear the Moto 360 with formal wear and it wouldn’t look out of place. In contrast, the G Watch R looks totally fine for walking around town, or even for a business casual ensemble. It’s not bad-looking, but its size is a bit jarring, and it looks more at home in the outdoors.


While both watches have a heart rate monitor sensor built in, the Moto 360 records your heart rate data constantly throughout the day. It’s not always perfectly accurate, but it gives you a much more realistic estimate of your caloric burn compared to simple step-counting. The G Watch R requires you to fire up an app when you want to see what your ticker is doing. It’s not something you could use while running, or really, while doing anything.


The coup de grĂ¢ce is that at $250, the Moto 360 is fifty bucks cheaper than the $300 G Watch R. Even if they were both $250 I think I still might go with the 360 here. The Moto 360 is just far more comfortable to wear, and it’s better-looking. Add in the round-the-clock heart-rate monitoring and auto screen dimming, and it counter-balances the LG’s superior battery life, which seems to be its only meaningful advantage. Yes, the G Watch R is a bit quicker, but we’re talking about a barely noticeable difference. And the quality of the G Watch R’s screen is better, but the additional size on the 360 makes it easier to read.


In short, it’s close, but the Moto 360 is the better watch and the better buy.



Windows 10 Looks Pretty Cool, But Microsoft Is Still So Far Behind


Microsoft's Joe Belfiore speaks at an event demonstrating new features of WIndows 10 at the company's headquarters, Jan. 21, 2015.

Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore speaks at an event demonstrating new features of WIndows 10 at the company’s headquarters, Jan. 21, 2015. Elaine Thompson/AP



So Microsoft is going 3-D.

Unveiled today alongside the new Windows 10 operation system, the company’s holographic interface looks awesome. It even looks like the future! But here in the present, where super-flat screens in our pockets dominate personal computing, Windows 10 still won’t put Microsoft back in the most important race. The company came to the new mobile world last. And that’s where it will likely remain.


In today’s keynote, Microsoft showed off a new Windows 10 feature called Continuum, which, like Apple’s Continuity, is meant to make moving from PC to tablet to phone as seamless as possible. In fact, the Windows 10 experience may be even more continuous, since Microsoft is creating “universal apps“—starting with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Photos—that the company says will run across all devices with just a few tweaks to the interface. This device-agnostic approach to the OS is the inevitable future and, in many ways, already the present. But will it suddenly make iOS and Android users switch to a Windows phone or a Surface tablet?


Not likely. The race to become the world’s dominant mobile operating systems is over. Apple and Google won. Microsoft’s updates to Windows aren’t so much about trying to peel off a large swath of the consumer market but to keep the enterprise customers at the core of its business from defecting. It may do that, but not much more.


microsoft-10-cortana

Microsoft





Witness Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Now, called Cortana. The voice-activated interactive assistant will be integrated into the desktop. It’s hard to imagine how that will work in an office with everyone yammering at their computers. But it arguably puts Microsoft on par with its competitors.

The same could be said for Spartan, the Windows 10 web browser, rebuilt from scratch. Spartan has received some good advance press. But the expectations set by Internet Explorer have been so low for so long that Microsoft could have just shipped Firefox or Chrome with Windows and been hailed as wildly innovative.


As has happened for most of the 21st century, the new features Microsoft unveiled today—with the exception of its holograms—are all about catching up with the products that have set the pace. And merely moving up to the starting line isn’t a strategy for changing the direction of consumer sentiment.


Instead, with Windows 10, Microsoft has given themselves a little bit of insurance. The next time employees at some massive corporation that runs Windows go whining to an IT manager that their work phones can’t do everything their iPhones or Galaxy Notes can, the manager can point to Windows 10 and say: “Sure they do.” Or at least close enough.



Wild Concept Sensors for Google’s Modular Phone




Last week, Google teased its modular smartphone, Project Ara, with a video showcasing ultra-customized, ultra-colorful skins for its various modules. Today, we’re getting a different glimpse of how Ara might cater to myriad user needs: A set of conceptual sensors modules that could unlock functionality well beyond what’s possible with today’s smartphones.


The speculative modules were created by Lapka, a company specializing in design-forward sensor-driven hardware. Lapka launched its novel Personal Environment Monitor (PEM for short), in 2012, making it an early player in the environment-tracking scene that’s continuing to proliferate today. Its latest product is a sleek smartphone-assisted breathalyzer. The company has met with Google and tested out the Ara phone, but this project is entirely Lapka’s own initiative. With the imagined Lapka x Project Ara product line, Ara users would not only have the option to upgrade their smartphones’ cameras, screens, and batteries—they’d also be able to plug in things like a CO2 monitor or a glucometer.


The concept comprises seven components in all: an air quality sensor, a CO2 monitor, a light sensor, an EKG node that measures heart activity, a glucometer for glucose tracking, a breathalyzer, and a “soul” module. (It’s anyone’s guess what that last one will do—Lapka hasn’t supplied any details.) The idea is to use Ara’s modular platform to expand beyond traditional smartphone functionality—and the traditional aesthetic of diagnostic devices. With Lapka, a Project Ara device could become a mobile doctor’s office, a meteorology station, or a lab technician’s assistant. “Our idea is to create and establish a health care brand,” says Vadik Marmeladov, creative director at Lapka. “We think style is super important. It’s the only way people will use medical devices at their own will.”


lapka_google_project_ara_flat1 copy

Lapka’s PEM monitor from 2012, left, and Lapka’s vision for Google Ara phones, right. Lapka



Lapka predates Project Ara, but you can see a kinship to Ara in the company’s early work. PEM’s square and rectangular pieces were designed to fit together into a rectangular puzzle, not unlike Ara’s electromagnetically-attachable modules. But the Ara concept work stakes out its own striking aesthetic: Modules are green, pink, spackled, and sharply geometric. According to Lapka’s blog, the architectural pieces were inspired by “high-end, designer sneakers with the most unique combinations of materials and textures.” They also harken back to the Memphis design movement that came out Milan in the 1980s, whose furniture favored loud colors, sharp angles, and unapologetic geometry.


The Project Ara vision is one where gadgets become increasingly personal. It takes customization beyond changing your lock screen or switching up your case. Lapka’s work shows a different side of Ara’s potential, one where fashion and technology coexist. “All these companies like Zara, H&M, who collaborate with Margiela or Alexander Wang, they create this limited edition that can be sold globally,” Marmeladov says. “This could also work in the tech industry. Lapka could be the high-end fashion brand, where we work with Google to create these because Google is so big that they can’t make the product this brave or colorful. So they can use boutique brands like ours to come up with these ideas.”


These modules aren’t meant for everyone, but that would be the point. They’re designed for highly specific use cases and tastes. They hint at a future in which modular gadgets don’t just change the face of smartphones, but perhaps medical devices, scientific instruments, and educational tools, too.