Weight Watchers is trying to avoid becoming the next Kodak

One of the most well-known brands in dieting is undoubtedly Weight Watchers. Ever since the 1960s, the company has helped people shed pounds through food-logging (customers keep track of point values assigned to different foods) and through weekly group meetings. Despite the occasional change (meetings are now optional instead of mandatory, for example), the system has remained popular with consumers, and it’s consistently ranked as number one as “Best Diet for Weight Loss” by US News & World Report.

That’s why it was a little confusing when Weight Watchers rebranded itself last year. In September 2018, the company changed its name from Weight Watchers to WW, and declared its new focus was no longer weight loss, but overall health and wellness. It even had a new tagline: “Wellness that Works.”

Many posited that this pivot is due to overall health trends that de-emphasize dieting over more holistic approaches. Several critics, however, say that WW’s wellness-focused approach is a bit of a facade, since dieting is still a big part of its program. But WW’s rebranding could be due to something else: keeping up with the meteoric rise of health tech.

Fitness apps have seen unprecedented growth in the past few years. Flurry Analytics reports that they grew by 330 percent between 2014 and 2017, and apps in this category are also the most “sticky.” In other words, health and fitness apps are often those that customers return to time and time again. Instead of just going to support groups and gyms, people are now looking to their phones for guidance when it comes to health. It’s easier, less intimidating and, often, much more affordable.

Compared to newer food-logging apps or fitness tracker solutions like Fitbit, the Weight Watchers approach of counting points and community support might seem outdated. Sure, calorie-counting is a chore, but apps like MyFitnessPal or LoseIt can help you do it for free, and you don’t have to be concerned about keeping up with an ever-changing proprietary point system. Similarly, there are online fitness support groups on Facebook and elsewhere that are readily accessible without having to pay a single dime.

Yet, Weight Watchers has attempted to keep up with the times over the past few years. In 2014, the app incorporated fitness data from trackers like Fitbit and Jawbone. In 2015, the company introduced a “Beyond the Scale” program that adjusted the points allocation in food to emphasize lean proteins and relegate sugar-laden carbs. It also introduced Connect, a robust online community of Weight Watchers users only available with a membership. In 2017, the company introduced WW Freestyle, a new version of the points program that assigned a zero value to healthy foods like eggs and fish so that members could eat as much of them as they wanted without guilt.

The biggest change, however, came with the 2018 rebranding to WW. Not only was there a new emphasis on overall fitness and wellness, the app was reimagined from the ground up. Food-logging is still a core component, but now there are other features like customized audio workouts from Aaptiv and curated meditations from Headspace right in the app (and without any additional charge). WW also launched Connect Groups, which aims to foster WW’s online community around single topics like Vegetarianism and Yoga. Last but not least, WW is launching voice integration services with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant so members can easily look up points values for foods and add them to their log.

In short, WW wants to be the all-in-one solution for all your health needs. “In the same way you use Netflix for movies or Spotify for music, we want you to use WW for health and wellness,” said Stacie Sherer, WW’s head of communications.

WW

“WW has decades of experience in behavior change science and community-building with a clinically proven program,” said Michael Lysaght, WW’s CTO. “At its core, WW is a technology experience company. We are continually enhancing all of the ways our program and wellness platform can be integrated into our members lives.”

WW users I spoke to have been largely supportive of the move. “The change in direction to wellness is brilliant,” said Michael Daggett, a 46-year-old military recruiter who’s been on Weight Watchers since 2015. As for the app, he uses it regularly for food-logging and says that “the supportive community ‘Connect’ and other workshop members provide a visible path to success.” Jennifer Robinson, a 68-year-old retired elementary school secretary, got on Weight Watchers in the 1970s and says she’s had great success with it throughout the past few decades. She’s not a big fan of the rebranding — “I will never call it WW,” she opines — but says the community support and push toward healthy foods has worked for her.

Despite this, however, WW shares dropped by 30 percent last month when the company reported fourth-quarter results that were rather dire, showing lower member recruitment numbers than expected. “While we are disappointed with our start to 2019, we are confident that our strategy to focus on providing holistic wellness solutions leveraging our best-in-class weight management program is the right path to support long-term sustainable growth,” said CEO Mindy Grossman in the earnings report.

WW

In a lot of ways, WW’s story mimics that of how iconic brands sometimes struggle to remain relevant in the modern age. Kodak, for example, tried to recover from the shift from film to digital by making an odd camera phone, a VR action cam and milking the retro trend with instant printers. It even slapped its name to a cryptocurrency business for awhile. None of these efforts however, saved it from failing to recapture its former glory. There are other instances of well-known brands that have fallen by the wayside. Flickr used to be the digital imaging platform of choice for many, but ultimately lost to Instagram. MySpace struggled to stay afloat after Facebook gained popularity. These are lessons that brand equity is no guarantee that you’ll survive.

Thankfully, WW hasn’t fallen that far off. It’s still more popular than apps like MyFitnessPal and LoseIt, with several hundred thousand more followers on social media like Twitter and Instagram. It has famous spokespeople like Oprah Winfrey, Kevin Smith and, more recently, DJ Khaled, which might help bring in a younger audience. If there’s one thing that WW has over other similar upstarts like Noom, is that it has a bigger bank account and historical clout.

Yet, while long-time WW users remain loyal to the brand, it seems that it still has a hard time recruiting new members. Even after its name change, most people still know and recognize them as Weight Watchers, and getting rid of the older brand in favor of a newer, untested one that sounds a little like a wrestling club might not be a good idea. It’s trying to revamp its image with a new focus on overall wellness and a bigger push into tech, but it’s unclear if that will be enough in the face of other, smaller, nimbler fitness solutions that don’t require a subscription. In an era where diet and fitness advice is readily available for free on the web, WW might need a little more than a rebrand to capture the hearts and minds of a younger generation.

Images: WW / Weight Watchers (All)

Raised in the tropics of Malaysia, Nicole arrived in the United States in search of love, happiness and ubiquitous broadband. That last one is still a dream, but two out of three isn’t bad. Her love for words and technology reached a fever pitch in San Francisco, where she learned you could make a living writing about gadgets, video games and the internet. Truly, a dream come true. Other interests include baseball, coffee, cooking and chasing after her precocious little cat.


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Volvo’s shared Care Key will keep your teens from speeding


Volvo Cars

Volvo is continuing its bet on safety over speed. The company announced today that, beginning with model year 2021, all new cars will come with a “Care Key.” Owners will be able to set a speed limit attached to the key, and anyone using it will be capped at that speed. The feature might be especially helpful if you plan on lending your car to new or speed-hungry drivers, and Volvo is hoping insurance companies will offer incentives to those who use Care Key.

Earlier this month, the company announced it would cap the speed in all of its new cars at 112 mph, starting with the 2021 model year. Care Key will let owners set their top speeds even lower, if they choose. The company also announced plans to use cameras and sensors inside its cars to detect drunk and distracted driving.

Håkan Samuelsson, Volvo Cars’ chief executive, has asked if car makers have a right or an obligation to install technology that changes owners’ behavior. Both Care Key and the added cameras and sensors raise the question of how automakers can and should incorporate new technologies, especially as so many are developed by the self-driving car industry.

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Google's Stadia is the moonshot game streaming needs

There’s a good chance we’ll remember Google’s Stadia announcement as a landmark moment in gaming. In one fell swoop, Google laid out its plans for an ambitious game streaming service that goes far beyond anything we’ve ever seen before. Stadia promises unparalleled graphical power, near-instant access and the ability to play the latest titles on almost any screen. As Google’s announcement went on, the future came into focus — a world where the frustration of modern consoles didn’t exist, and games flowed freely as water.

Obviously, plenty of questions still remain. We don’t know what Stadia will cost, or how well it’ll perform with millions of players slamming Google’s servers (the “Project Stream” beta was solid, at least). But after plenty of false starts in game streaming, Stadia feels like the bold swing that could make it truly take off. That might seem surprising, coming from a company that hasn’t has much experience with games. But historically many of the biggest shifts in the industry came from newcomers: Sony proved CDs were a viable upgrade to cartridges with the PlayStation; and Microsoft showed the importance of a robust online service with Xbox Live. Each of those companies tapped into their expertise to shift the gaming landscape, so it makes sense that Google would be the one to nail streaming. It requires a deep understanding of the internet and experience in delivering complex services to a wide variety of devices.

For years, streaming games over the internet has seemed like a pipe dream. OnLive made a huge splash a decade ago, only to burn out a few years later (Sony picked up its patent scraps). GaiKai was a direct competitor, which Sony snapped up and used its technology to build PlayStation Now and Remote Play. More recently, we’ve seen the likes of NVIDIA take a stab with GeForce Now — a solid service, but one that’s perpetually been in beta. There are also smaller companies, like Blade and Parsec, that are trying to make their mark. Microsoft, meanwhile, says it’s working on its own game streaming solution, Project xCloud, which we’re expecting more details about at E3.

While all of these services basically do the same thing (let you play titles running on remote servers over the internet), Stadia’s scope is on an entirely different level. Google says it’ll be powered by servers running custom CPUs and AMD GPUs capable of 10.7 teraflops, on par with NVIDIA’s GTX 1080 Ti. In comparison, the Xbox One X, the most powerful console today, has six teraflops. The company claims Stadia will support up to 4K HDR at 60 frames per second, something that only gaming PCs can achieve today. It’s also eyeing 8K 120+ FPS down the line, specs which no game supports today. To deal with more demanding games, Stadia will be able to use multiple servers and GPUs seamlessly. And it will also rely on server-class SSDs, which means your games and levels will load faster than any console. Basically, you won’t have to worry about specs anymore.

Of course, raw power doesn’t mean much if your gameplay is laggy because the servers are far away, but Google says it’ll have 7,500 server locations around the world. We haven’t seen server stats from earlier streaming services, but even OnLive at the height of its popularity couldn’t deploy data centers as easily Google. That’s also a sign that smaller companies like Blade and Parsec will have a hard time competing.

Google is also making its service a much more web-connected experience than consoles. Press a button on the new Stadia controller, and you’ll quickly start streaming your experience on YouTube gaming. Another button lets you access Google Assistant, which can automatically point you to YouTube videos to help you get through a tough level. Google says Stadia will also lead to lag-free multiplayer matches, since all of the networking complexity happens on its cloud. And there’s another surprising advantage: the service could also help us relive the days when we spent hours playing Goldeneye on crowded couches.. Many modern titles are too demanding to support co-operative multiplayer on a single TV, but that’s not problem for Stadia’s cloud processing.

The Stadia controller is unique in another respect: It connects to the internet over Wi-Fi, giving it direct communication with the server. That’s a smart way to reduce input lag, a common problem with every game streaming service so far. Previously, you’d press a button on a controller and it would go through a local device, make its way to a server, and you’d see the result when it appears on your screen.


Bloomberg via Getty Images

Stadia appears to address most of the problems inherent with game streaming, while also offering significant advantages over today’s consoles. With its large server footprint and powerful hardware, Google says you’ll be able to start a game in under five seconds. You won’t have to worry about downloading, installing and updating anything. (I can’t count the number of times when I’ve had 30 minutes to play something, only to be thwarted by a huge update.) Its expandable graphics means it could scale to whatever quality you need. And of course, there’s no giant box to deal with — all you need is an internet connection and a device that runs Chrome. As Google demonstrated at GDC, you’ll be able to continue a single play session across multiple devices easily.

Perhaps most importantly, Google seems to be throwing everything it has behind Stadia, something we haven’t seen with a game streaming service since PlayOn. They’ve even hired industry veteran Jade Raymond to head up their first-party studio, Stadia Games and Entertainment. Hopefully, Stadia will encourage competitors like NVIDIA and Microsoft to step up with their own offerings. While there’s still plenty left up in the air, Stadia is the boldest play we’ve seen yet for the next generation of gaming.

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gadgetry, gadgets, gaming, gear, google, internet
Devindra has been obsessed with technology for as long as he can remember — starting with the first time he ever glimpsed an NES. He spent several years fixing other people’s computers before he started down the treacherous path of writing about technology. Mission accomplished?


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Amazon's All-new Kindle for $89.99 is priced for budget users

Amazon’s All-new Kindle improves upon the company’s most affordable e-reader by adding a few new features for a slightly higher price. Announced Wednesday and due to ship April 10, the All-new Kindle starts at $89.99 with Special Offers (ads) enabled—$10 more than the starting price for the prior generation. It will cost $109.99 without Special Offers (you can also disable Special Offers later, for a fee)

Because the All-new Kindle is still the lowest-end model, you can’t expect it to have all the perks of the midrange Kindle Paperwhite, which is our pick for the best Kindle for most users; let alone the Kindle Oasis, which has every imaginable e-reader bell and whistle—and a price to match. (For more Kindle reviews and how-to’s, go to our Kindle product roundup.) Still, Amazon is offering some nice features for the price, including: 

  • Glare-free, adjustable front lighting for easy reading day and night
  • Improved E-Ink technology for crisper text
  • Capacitive touch for fewer mistaken swipes as you read
  • A three-month trial of the Kindle Unlimited service (access to a large library of content without per-product fees), normally $9.99 monthly

All-new Kindle vs. Kindle Paperwhite

Many users will be looking at the All-new Kindle and wondering, what are the trade-offs for the lower price? We’ll go through the highlights here. 

Display: The All-new Kindle sports a 6-inch, 4-LED screen with 167 ppi. The Kindle Paperwhite’s display is the same size, but has 5 LEDs (so it’ll be brighter), and a higher resolution of 300 ppi. Finally, the Kindle Paperwhite’s display is flush with the front of the device, while the All-new Kindle’s display is slightly recessed from the bezels. 

Storage: The All-new Kindle has just 4GB of storage, compared to a choice of 8GB or 32GB on the Kindle Paperwhite. 

Battery: While the devices are actually very similar in dimensions and weight, their battery life differs greatly. Amazon estimates four weeks of life from a full charge for the All-new Kindle, while the Kindle Paperwhite can last up to six weeks from a full charge. 

Connectivity: The All-new Kindle is Wi-Fi-only, while the Kindle Paperwhite offers a cellular option on its 32GB version for additional cost. 

Water resistance: The All-new Kindle is not water-resistant, while the Kindle Paperwhite is IPX8-rated to survive in two meters of water for up to an hour at a time.

The All-new Kindle will come in white and black case colors. Cloth case covers will be available for $29.99 from Amazon in four colors: Charcoal, Cobalt Blue, Punch Red, and Sandstone White

Clearly Amazon’s All-new Kindle has had to cut a few corners to be affordable. For many people, though, the affordable price could outweigh the compromises. We’ll let you know more if we have a chance to review the product. In the meantime, stay tuned to our Kindle product roundup for news as it arises, or check out the alternatives in our roundup of the best e-readers, including Kobo and others. 

all new kindle black tilt mar 2019 cropped Amazon

The All-new Kindle (10th generation, 2019) will come in black and white case colors. 

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Postmates’ newest feature is like Uber pool for food delivery

Postmates is launching a new feature called Postmates Party that lets customers within the same neighborhood pool their orders. In return, these customers get the food delivered for free, eliminating a major pinch point for potential Postmates users.

The feature illustrates how Postmates, one of the earlier entrants to the billion-dollar food delivery wars, is trying to remain competitive by appealing to price-sensitive customers.

Customers using the app can tap on the Postmates Party tab, which will show trending merchants that people in their neighborhood are ordering from at that exact moment. By joining the “party,” customers can share the delivery from popular restaurants and get free delivery.

For now, the company’s party feature will only be offered in a handful of the nearly 3,000 U.S. cities it currently operates in. The feature is now available in Chicago, Las Vegas, Long Beach, Calif., Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Phoenix, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Orange County, Calif., and Philadelphia.

And there is an important caveat. The party feature has a five-minute time limit in which the customer must place their order to get the deal.

“We are driven by the vision of creating a logistics infrastructure that allows goods to move throughout a city at nearly zero cost to the consumer. Postmates Party is the latest innovation in on-demand delivery that will help us deliver on this vision,” Postmates CEO and co-founder Bastian Lehmann said in a statement. “Postmates Party is a fun way to give customers the option to save money by ordering from popular restaurants that people all around them are ordering from in real time.”

Earlier this year, Postmates raised an additional $100 million in equity funding at a $1.85 billion valuation.The round comes four months after the eight-year-old startup drove home a $300 million investment that knocked it into “unicorn” territory.

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