Surge

Tech takeover: Wearable technology working its way into everyday life in Myrtle Beach

In today’s digital age, countless people are exceedingly dependent on some kind of mobile device — smartphone, tablet or laptop. On a daily basis, these devices connect us with an assortment of services — the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, weather apps, calendars and project management tools and much more.

These devices act as personal assistants, a digital friend that has your back, keeping you informed on what’s happening in the world at any given time, when the next movie starts or the current weather forecast. Information is available almost immediately with a single swipe or click.

While the term technology encompasses a range of ideas, products, devices and services, what’s currently trending in technology are tools that interact directly with our devices and everyday lives.

A selection of features, devices and programs are blossoming on the market, leading technology in a whole other direction. Some of these tools track our heart rate, are connected directly to our bank accounts, or store pictures, files or information “in the cloud.”

In Myrtle Beach, the demand for certain technology is on the rise — wearables, mobile pay programs and cloud computing services. As people look for ways to simplify their lives, mobile providers and retailers are stocking their shelves with the latest gadgets and getting informed on new services that help sync and simplify our daily lives.

Wearables

Wearable technology is one of the biggest trends happening now, largely in part to the Apple Watch hitting the market. While fitness trackers and smartwatches have been around for decades, improvements in memory, physical size, functionality and pricing have helped these devices evolve into the must have wearables on the market today.

While a range of fitness trackers are currently available for purchase, the main objective for each is generally the same — to track your body’s activity level throughout the day.

Most often worn on the wrist, these devices can count steps, running distance, sleep patterns, heart rate and more, and are configured with an app on a mobile device via Bluetooth. Throughout the day the tracker synchronizes with the app, outlining data specific to your fitness level and comparing it against health guidelines and recommendations.

Jeri-Lynn Enright, a customer specialist at Best Buy in Myrtle Beach, says there is a constant demand for fitness trackers and smartwatches at their location.

“The most popular one right now is the Fitbit Charge HR,” she says. “We have trouble keeping the purple model in stock, it’s our best seller.”

Enright says the tracker is popular because it’s geared toward the heart -healthy and features automatic heart monitoring. Retailing for $149.99, the rechargeable device will also monitor your distance and activity, calories burned, sleeping activity, and has a screen that shows readable data and will function as a watch and caller ID when paired with certain devices.

More basic models, like the UP24 Wristband by Jawbone and Garmin vivofit Fitness Band, are also best-sellers due to their price points, according to Enright.

The Garmin vivofit Fitness Band retails for $79.99 at Best Buy and will track steps taken, running distance, calories and sleep activity. While it doesn’t provide heart monitoring, it is compatible with select heart rate monitors.

A bevy of companies including Nike, LG and Microsoft currently sell models of fitness trackers. With so many devices currently available, it may seem overwhelming to decide which model is best for you. The decision comes down to your personal health goals. Depending on what you’re looking to achieve personally, fitness trackers are a great way to not only provide incentive, but insight.

Katherine Mann of Myrtle Beach says she and her husband each purchased the Fitbit Flex to be inspired to be more active.

“It was motivation,” she says. “We wanted to compete with each other to see who could achieve their step goal during the day first.”

Mann says the compatibility of the app and being able to track her weight is another reason why they selected the Fitbit Flex.

Another trend in wearable devices is the smartwatch. While smartwatches can also act as fitness trackers, depending on the model, most smartwatches function as a wearable computer. Along with performing basic tasks like keeping time and calculations, most smartwatches operate on their own mobile operating system and can run apps, programs, games, media and much more when synced with a smartphone.

While the Apple Watch put the spotlight on smartwatches when it was released back in April, numerous other models have already been on the market, syncing techies on the go with a multitude of information.

Enright says the Samsung Gear S, which retails for $199.99 (with a two-year contract), is a top-selling smartwatch at the Myrtle Beach Best Buy, largely due to its ability to work independently of a smartphone.

“You can use it separately as a phone, or you can use it as a tracker,” Enright says. “You don’t need to have your phone with you to use it.”

The Samsung Gear S is a network-connected watch, so users can make and receive calls, messages and have access to apps even when their smartphone is not on their person. It will also work as a fitness tracker by monitoring heart rate, steps, running distance and more.

Another smartwatch in demand is the Moto 360 by Motorola, with prices starting at $199.99, due to its style factor and traditional round face.

“A lot of people like it because you can switch out or download different faces for it, and there are different bands and cases available for purchase,” Enright says.

Users can opt for a genuine Horween leather band in cognac, black or stone leather with a matching light or dark case, or one of their classically styled metal bands. Options include light metal in either regular or slim bands, dark metal regular band, or champagne in the slim band, all with matching faces.

The Moto 360 is not a network-connected watch, instead it runs Android Wear, a smartwatch operating system designed by Google. The Moto 360, and other smartwatches that run Android Wear, operate as an extension of your smartphone and some functions will not work independently of the phone. Information, notifications and apps will be displayed on the face of the watch, providing an interface for making and receiving calls, messages, playing games, tracking activity and much more.

The Apple Watch is Apple’s version of the smartwatch. Prices start at $349, but depending on the model, style and finish, the watch can cost as much as $17,000, and currently, it is only available for purchase only through Apple’s website or at an Apple store.

The Apple Watch operates and syncs exclusively with iPhone 5 models and later using the latest version of iOS, which includes the Apple Watch app.

Along with a collection of built-in apps that allow the watch to receive and send messages, phone calls, view maps and much, much more, it is also a gateway for another trending piece of tech- Apple Pay, a mobile pay program.

Mobile pay

While smartphones and smartwatches have increased our mobility, the next big thing in technology is pay programs. Two influential programs currently ringing up popularity are Apple Pay and Google Wallet.

These pay programs work as digital wallets and are free for users; they store credit card, debit card or gift card information and provide a gateway for paying in stores or online without having to reach for an actual physical wallet.

Select smartphones and smartwatches installed with a near field communication (NFC) chip allow users to have the ability to establish radio communication with another NFC device, simply by tapping them together or positioning them within close proximity.

Apple Pay can currently only be employed through the iPhone 6 or Apple Watch, while Google Wallet will work on any NFC-enabled Android device running OS version 4.4, otherwise known as KitKat, or higher on any carrier network.

Currently, a collection of retailers, restaurants, grocery stores, hotels and gas stations in the Myrtle Beach area offer NFC compatible payment processors, with more locations being added every day. Users simply have to look for the Apple Pay logo or the Google Wallet or MasterCard PayPass logo to be able to pay with one of the programs.

“Just tap and go. It’s really easy. It will be the new future of spending money,” says Lora Maddox, a wireless consultant with Spring Mobile in Coastal Grand mall.

Maddox says the number of customers coming to her store seeking information about pay programs, specifically Apple Pay, for their smartphone is on the rise.

“Mostly, people are curious to see how it works and often they’re amazed, especially when you just tap it and your money’s gone,” she says.

Maddox says she personally uses Google Wallet and recommends it due to its speed and ease of use.

“It’s a big time-saver,” she says. “If you’re somewhere and there is a big line behind you and you don’t want to fumble through your wallet, just grab your phone, tap and go.”

But Maddox does warn users to use caution when using the programs.

“The program makes it really easy to spend your money because all you have to do is tap it and enter your pin,” she explains. “Also, be sure if you have NFC turned on, keep your phone on your person because other people can tap your phone and get your information.”

Cloud computing

In our digital world, taking videos, creating presentations, downloading and listening to music is easier than ever. However, storing and having access to this information on multiple devices and collaborating with different users is hard to do with basic services.

Enter cloud computing.

You may hear people mutter with disdain or confusion “it’s in the cloud” when they don’t know or are unsure where a file or document has been saved. But for consumers, the cloud is really just another term used to represent the Internet.

Dictionary.com defines cloud computing as “internet-based computing in which large groups of remote servers are networked so as to allow sharing of data-processing tasks, centralized data storage, and online access to computer services or resources.”

You might be thinking, say what?

While it may sound confusing, it’s not. Cloud computing services offer users an allotted amount of space, via the Internet, to store and share their data without having to save it locally, i.e. on their device’s storage.

Cloud computing is also gaining in popularity because it allows for easy access to your data from multiple locations and devices, and multiple users can collaborate on files. For example, if you upload a document from your computer at home, but need to access it from your tablet or smartphone when you’re at work or at a friend’s, cloud computing allows you to do just that, simply and without hassle.

In today’s market, there is a large assortment of cloud services vying for your files and attention. A few popular services trending now include Google Drive, iCloud and Dropbox, each special for their amenities and features.

▪ Google Drive

This file storage and synchronization service created by Google is free and allows users 15GB of space to store and share files.

Collaboration is a key feature of this service — users can share and edit presentations, documents and spreadsheets with other users utilizing their office suite apps: Google Docs, Sheets and Slides. One user might write and create a presentation, share it with another person in another location, and they both can make changes to it at the same time.

Google Drive also hosts a variety of apps to help you sync, save and edit files, forms, diagrams, flow charts and much more.

Once a user creates a Google account, they can download and access information from any device. If additional storage space is needed, larger plans are available for purchase.

Donald Dennis of Pawleys Island is a host, executive producer and sound engineer for Inverse Genius, a collective new media entertainment enterprise that hosts four diverse weekly podcasts based on board, card and role-playing games.

Inverse Genius is comprised of several members dispersed throughout the United States: Oklahoma, Connecticut, Arkansas and South . Dennis says Google Drive has been crucial to Inverse Genius’ collaborative success. The group collaborates through uploading and sharing documents and media pertinent to preparing and organizing their multiple podcasts.

“It’s where I do my show planning and share our script,” Dennis says. “I also keep a shared spreadsheet with our plans, our show history, which includes a list of games we've already reviewed, as well as our upcoming guests and topics.”

▪ iCloud

iCloud is a cloud storage and computing service created by Apple that allows its users to integrate all their iOS devices. Consumers can optimize their free plan that includes 5GB of storage, with additional storage options available for purchase.

“Any device-iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Mac computer logged in with the same Apple ID and password can integrate and share things, given their settings are setup properly,” says Jeff Costa, the general manager of CityMac, an Apple specialist store located in The Market Common.

“For instance, if you create an iCal Event on your iMac, it will then send it to all of your devices so you don’t have to enter it on them,” he says. “Or, add a new contact into your iPhone, and it will be on all your devices and computers.”

Costa says iCloud is beneficial for iOS users because it also backs up the contents of their devices, allowing users to easily restore a device to backup point after a problem or reset. It also allows users to remotely erase, lockdown or locate the device if lost or stolen, given the device is powered on.

▪ Dropbox

Another popular file sharing and cloud computing service is Dropbox. Users of this service can easily share files and access them from multiple devices and locations.

Once a folder is created on their computer for Dropbox, the service syncs it, allowing for other users to edit or add files.

Videos, photos, presentations, documents and more can be uploaded and saved through a free 2GB account. Additional plans for consumers and business are also available with more services and space options for purchase.

  Comments