Apple Watch wins the wrist war before it starts

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Apple Watch did some monster pre-orders in its first day on sale. Photo: Leander Kahney
The closer we get to Apple Watch, the more advanced it looks in comparison to its competition. Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

Ever since Tim Cook unveiled the Apple Watch last September, it’s been one disappointment after another as far as I’m concerned. Apple’s first wearable won’t come in the minimalist form factor of the fitness bracelets I love. Worse yet, the launch version of the fashion-forward device will lack GPS, suffer from underwhelming battery life and fail to offer truly native third-party apps.

For the first time, I realized I would not be buying an Apple product when it first hit the market. “It’s not worth lining up for,” I told my dad when he asked what I thought after the Apple Watch’s big reveal.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Apple Watch’s launch day, which is coming sometime this spring. And I’m not talking about the previously unthinkable — an Apple fan calling the Microsoft Band the best smartwatch on the planet. No, I’m talking about wading through an ungodly sea of really bad smartwatches at International CES earlier this month and seeing indisputable proof of just how innovative and disruptive Apple Watch actually will be.

iPhone 6s rumors, autonomous cars and lots of glitter on this week’s CultCast

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"Destination, please." Johnny Cab, Total Recall.

This week: Optical zoom and Force Touch rumored for the iPhone 6s, autonomous future-cars chauffeur us about, and we’re back from Vegas with a full report on the best gadgets, technology and trends from the 2015 International CES. And for a small fee, we cover your enemies in an explosion of spectacular glitter. Seriously.

Our thanks to Harry’s for supporting this episode. Harry’s super-sharp, German-made razors ship free right to your door and for way less than the drugstore razors. Learn more at Harrys.com and save $5 off your first order with code CultCast.

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Full show notes ahead!

With HomeKit on horizon, home automation is about to get real

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Wall of Philips remotes. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Wall of Philips remotes. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
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The year is 2018. After a long day at work, you pull into your driveway, whip out your iPhone 10 Plus and say, “Siri, I’m home.”

Your garage door opens silently, beckoning you to enter the ultra-connected smart home of the future.

As you walk in, your lights turn on. The wife used to get on you about leaving the lights on, but her nagging feels like a distant memory now. Your thermostat cools everything down to a comfortable 69 degrees. Knowing that you pulled into the driveway two minutes ago, your oven has started preheating itself. You usually fix dinner for yourself on Thursdays, so it’s time for frozen pizza.

Best of CES 2015: Get a glimpse of the fantastic future

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Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Anything goes at International CES, the world's largest consumer electronics show. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
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LAS VEGAS — Walk the halls of the massive International CES trade show and you’ll be bombarded by an outrageous number of pitches for products with radical new features.

Cult_of_Mac_CES_2015 You can glimpse the shiny happy future of consumer electronics at the show, although some of the innovations on display are clearly destined for the dustbin of gadget history.

At the biggest booths, reps for big companies like Sony and Samsung — but, sadly, not Apple — talk up the latest additions to their product lines. At smaller booths, inventors show off prototypes for products that may not ever roll off an assembly line. There’s a nonstop blitz of “world’s first” products.

It’s impossible to see everything, but it’s a blast trying. Here are Cult of Mac’s picks for the best of CES 2015, from Lightning-enabled headphones and massive TVs to drones and self-adjusting belts.

Wireless flash brings iPhone photography out of dark ages

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Knog video light. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Knog's nine-LED Expose remote flash will light up your iPhone photos and video. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
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LAS VEGAS — The iPhone is the most popular camera in the world. But it still sucks at flash photography.

Cult_of_Mac_CES_2015 Knog, the Austrialian company that makes those kickass bike lights, wants to make your nighttime iPhone pics a little bit better this year: Its newest lighting revelation is called Expose, and it’s a super-handy iPhone flash that’s also super-bright.

Expose is bright in more ways than one. Its accompanying iPhone app lets users blast light in photo and video modes, with flash, strobe or continuous settings. You can adjust the white balance and brightness, and the device weighs so little you’ll barely notice it’s in your pocket.

Withings’ new Activité Pop is a smartwatch you’ll actually want to wear

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Withings smart watch is one of the best looking wearables around. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Withings smart watch is one of the best looking wearables around. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
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LAS VEGAS — The problem with the state of smartwatches, beyond the sucky software, is that they’re all ugly. The Apple Watch might very well be the first wearable that not only works, but looks good too, although we won’t know for sure until the finished product is on our wrists this spring.

Cult_of_Mac_CES_2015 There were dozens and dozens of smartwatches displayed on the sprawling show floor at International CES last week, but the only one that looked good enough to adorn my wrist was the new Withings Activité Pop.

It doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles of fancier watches like the Samsung Galaxy Gear, but it’s not your average dumb watch either. And for now, just a smidgen smarter is smart enough.

Quitbit smart lighter helps you kick cigarettes’ butts

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The Quitbit smart lighter can help you quit smoking by tracking your habits. Photo: Quitbit

LAS VEGAS — Ata Ghofrani cut down on smoking and finally quit during the holidays. The only glitch was a New Year’s Eve party, which triggered a “huge spike” in his otherwise fairly smooth reduction schedule.

Cult_of_Mac_CES_2015 Ghofrani used his own invention — Quitbit, the world’s first “smart” lighter — to monitor his smoking and set a daily “budget” of cancer sticks that decreased every day.

“The key for me was to know how many cigarettes I budgeted to smoke a day and how many I had left,” he wrote in a blog post detailing his progress.

The Quitbit uses the same psychology as fitness trackers. If you can monitor it, you can manage it.

Gymwatch tells you if you’re even lifting right, bro

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Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
The new Gymwatch wearable makes it easier to muscle up. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
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Hitting the gym with my girlfriend is an embarrassing affair. Not because she lifts almost as much as me, but because she’s so much better at it, with the all the right form and stuff.

Cult_of_Mac_CES_2015 “Move your knees farther apart. No, no, no. Push on the balls of your feet.”

It gets tedious as she makes sure I use the proper technique every single time, but her gripes and coaching are about to get replaced by a new wearable called Gymwatch. It tracks all your movements in the gym to make sure you’re getting the most out of your lifting workouts.

Sensor-laden smart socks will turn you into a better runner

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Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
These smart socks will fix your heel-striking woes. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
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LAS VEGAS — Tons of wearables at International CES promise to help you get better at everything from brushing your teeth to perfecting your golf swing, but the last place we expected someone to toss a sensor was into our socks.

Cult_of_Mac_CES_2015 Sensoria’s Fitness Socks are aimed at transforming you into a better, injury-free runner by embedding three sensor pads into the bottom of the sock that track your stride, cadence and speed while you’re running. Coupled with the Sensoria mobile app, runners can now get direct feedback on their running style to correct things like heel striking to help them dominate their next 10k.

Plastc organizes all your cards in one device

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Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Plastc is a simple device that organizes credit and debit cards. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
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LAS VEGAS — Apple Pay is cool, but what if you don’t have the latest iPhone 6? The Plastc Card might be for you.

Cult_of_Mac_CES_2015 Plastc is a chameleon-like electronic card that stores up to 20 cards — debit, credit, gift and even security cards.

It’s the same size and shape as a regular card, but has a sharp and striking e-ink display. You simply swipe through the e-ink screen to choose the card you want, and swipe the mag stripe through the reader.

Instead of carrying 20 cards in your wallet, you carry just one.