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We don’t have long to wait now before we find out exactly what Apple will announce today. An Apple Watch SE is one of the expected new products, alongside the Apple Watch Series 6. If rumors about the differences between the two are true, the new low-cost model could become the new default choice.

The headline feature of the Series 6 is expected to be an oxygen saturation reader – and it appears that this may be the main distinguishing feature over the Apple Watch SE expected to be launched alongside it …

Here’s what we’re expecting from the S6:

Code found within iOS 14 by 9to5Mac has indicated that Apple Watch will add blood oxygen level detection this year.

9to5Mac has also found evidence in iOS 14 that Apple is working to improve the electrocardiogram feature with the Apple Watch Series 6. Apple Watch Series 4 and 5 currently result in inconclusive ECG readings with heart rates between 100 and 120 beats per minute. The Apple Watch Series remove that limitation with an upgraded version of the ECG app.

The Apple Watch Series 6 is likely to look similar to the Apple Watch Series 5. Reports indicate that there aren’t any major changes in store for the Apple Watch Series 6’s industrial design and that it will follow the same general form factor as the Series 4 and Series 5. Of course, things like new finishes, colors, and bands are always possible.

This was echoed in a tweet by Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman this morning.

I expect the Apple Watch SE to be similar to the Series 5 in terms of design and internals. Series 6 differences will be faster chip and the blood oxygen reader — Mine was thankfully 97 this morning by the way.

— Mark Gurman (@markgurman) September 15, 2023

Oxygen saturation aka O2 sats aka pulse oximeter

The headline feature of the S6, then, is measuring O2 sats.

Technically, this is not something that requires new hardware, as a teardown showed that the sophisticated heart-rate monitor in even the original Apple Watch was also capable of acting as a pulse oximeter, which is another term for an O2 saturation monitor.

Apple hasn’t activated that functionality in any Apple Watch to date, and we got a clue as to a potential reason for this back in 2023. Apple CEO Tim Cook said he was reluctant to get tangled up in the need for FDA approvals.

Cook hints that Apple may have more plans for the health sphere, in a revelation which will intrigue Wall Street, but he doesn’t want the watch itself to become a regulated, government-licensed health product. “We don’t want to put the watch through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) process. I wouldn’t mind putting something adjacent to the watch through it, but not the watch, because it would hold us back from innovating too much, the cycles are too long. But you can begin to envision other things that might be adjacent to it — maybe an app, maybe something else.”

Cook of course changed his mind on this, as the Apple Watch Series 4 added ECG functionality, which required FDA approval.

Measuring O2 sats is an interesting and timely feature in a time of a pandemic that damages the lungs. However, I’m not sure it’s a massive reason to choose the Series 6. First, I’ve tested a smartwatch with an oxygen saturation feature – and I used it exactly once. Basically, unless you have a medical condition that affects your O2 saturation, it doesn’t vary much.

Of course, you can argue that during the pandemic, the ability to easily check your O2 sats if you feel any coronavirus-type symptoms could be extremely valuable. But it still appears that the vast majority of those infected are asymptomatic, and if you do still want to check it regularly, twenty bucks gets you a standalone device to do the job. I bought one at the beginning of the crisis, and it now forms part of our medicine cabinet. So there’s not much reason to pay a likely significant premium to get the feature on your Apple Watch.

Other expected S6 benefits over the Apple Watch SE

We also found evidence of better ECG readings with a resting heart-rate between 100 and 120 beats per minute, but that range is rare, and would for most people already be a sign to seek medical attention, so is irrelevant for most buyers.

Finally, there’s a faster processor. Personally, I noticed a difference in Siri response speed between my original Series 0 watch and the Series 3 – but no discernible difference with the Series 4. Processor speed isn’t really an issue with the Watch.

The Apple Watch SE looks like the new default

So, opting for the Apple Watch Series 6 looks set to get you: O2 sats most people will likely use only once, and can buy cheaply anyway; better ECG readings within a resting heart-rate range most of us don’t have; and a faster processor unlikely to make any noticeable difference.

Of course, if you do care about the new features, or you want premium materials, like stainless steel and ceramic (if offered), then it’s the Series 6 you’ll be buying. But if reports are accurate, and the Apple Watch SE is otherwise identical, I think most people are going to opt for what is likely to be a substantially cheaper model.

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Apple Announces The New Iphone Se: 4.7

It has been a long time coming, with more rumors than you can shake a stick at, but Apple’s newest low-cost iPhone is finally here. Please welcome the iPhone SE.

While there had been plenty of speculation that Apple would call the new handset the “iPhone SE 2” or even the “iPhone 9“, the company has opted to keep things simple and just go with iPhone SE (again). Apple is keeping things pretty familiar in some parts, with the price tag considerably lower than its other current iPhone models go for these days. And the device looks familiar, too, sharing plenty of design cues from the iPhone 8. But there are some key differences we’ll get into.

The features

Apple announced the new phone on Wednesday. As usual, there is a lot to go through. Apple says the new iPhone SE features an aerospace-grade aluminum and glass design, and the front of the phone is all-black. So even if you pick the white model, you’ll get black bezels above and below the display. And that display measures in at 4.7 inches, and it’s a Retina HD panel with True Tone technology. It even supports Dolby Vision and HDR10 for High Dynamic Range (HDR) support.

The physical Home button below the display is made from sapphire crystal, which also features a steel ring around it to read the owner’s fingerprint thanks to Touch ID support.

As expected, the new iPhone SE features an A13 Bionic processor, the same chip featured in the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro series.

A13 Bionic was built with a focus on machine learning, with a dedicated 8-core Neural Engine capable of 5 trillion operations per second, two Machine Learning Accelerators on the CPU and a new Machine Learning Controller to balance performance and efficiency. Together, A13 Bionic and iOS 13 enable new intelligent apps that make use of machine learning and Core ML.

The new iPhone SE is certified for wireless charging, and supports Qi-certified chargers. It also supports fast-charging and can give the new iPhone SE’s battery up to 50 percent charge in just 30 minutes. The handset also supports Gigabit-class LTE and Wi-Fi 6 support. There is a Lightning port on the bottom of the handset for wired charging. The new iPhone SE supports Haptic Touch and not 3D Touch — which means 3D Touch has effectively been retired now.

The handset is available in three colors: white, black, and (PRODUCT)RED. It will also be available in three variants with either 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB of built-in storage. Pricing will start at $399.

Meanwhile, around back, the new iPhone SE features a single 12-megapixel camera. Apple, of course, says the new camera is the best single-camera system it has ever produced in a smartphone. I’m just going to get out of the way and let Apple brag a bit:

iPhone SE features the best single-camera system ever in an iPhone with a 12-megapixel f/1.8 aperture Wide camera, and uses the image signal processor and Neural Engine of A13 Bionic to unlock even more benefits of computational photography, including Portrait mode, all six Portrait Lighting effects and Depth Control.5 Using machine learning and monocular depth estimation, iPhone SE also takes stunning Portraits with the front camera. Next-generation Smart HDR comes to iPhone SE, intelligently re-lighting recognized subjects in a frame for more natural-looking images with stunning highlight and shadow details.

Here’s a sample of the new iPhone SE’s camera:

The front and rear cameras both feature “cinematic video stabilization”. The rear camera can record 4K video up to 60fps, and extended dynamic range is supported with up to video captured at 30fps.

Apple touches on the familiar near the end of its announcement, including the fact that the handset still features the Secure Enclave for boosted security, Tracking Prevention in Safari, and the built-in Photos app will organize photos on device through Machine Learning. And of course the new phone has access to Apple’s range of services, including Apple Music, Apple TV+, iCloud, and more.

Pricing and availability

As I mentioned above, the new iPhone SE starts at $399 in the United States. Here’s a breakdown of the pricing:

64GB iPhone SE: $399 or $16.62 per month (without any trade-in)

128GB iPhone SE: $449 or $18.70 per month (without any trade-in)

256GB iPhone SE: $549 or $22.87 per month (without any trade-in)

Apple says with a trade-in customers can get the new phone for just $9.54 per month, or as low as $229 — depending on the trade-in, of course, and that’s the base model. Prices will vary on model chosen and trade-in offer.

The new iPhone SE will go up for pre-order on Friday, April 17, at 5:00 AM PDT. The handset will be available from Apple directly, authorized resellers, and “select carriers” beginning Friday, April 24, in the United States and in over 40 other countries and regions.

This story is developing…

Apple Officially Unveils Its New ‘Apple Watch’ Wearable

Apple just unveiled its much rumored wearable product live on stage during its press event this morning giving us a first look at its entrance into the smartwatch market. The device is officially called Apple Watch, pairs with iPhone, and sports an all-new user interface that is quite a departure from anything we’ve seen on other iOS devices. 

It’s driven Apple from the beginning. This compulsion to take incredibly powerful technology, and make it accessible, relevant, and ultimately, personal.”– Jony Ive

Perhaps the biggest surprise on the Apple Watch is that Apple is using a traditional watch dial on the side of the device as an input mechanism for navigating the device. That “Digital Crown” allows you to scroll, zoom, and navigate through the device without obscuring the display like a touchscreen smartwatch. The crown also acts as the device’s Home button. While Apple is focusing on using the Digital Crown dial for navigation, the device is capable of detecting touch input on the display and includes haptic feedback capabilities with a “Taptic Engine” feature. In addition, Apple Watch detects when users lift their wrists to activate the display. Here’s a look at the Apple Watch home screen:

The screen is a Retina display that Apple notes is “laminated to a single crystal of sapphire, the hardest transparent material after diamond.” Other specs in Apple Watch include a gyroscope and accelerometer, while GPS functionality comes from a wirelessly-connected iPhone. Apple also said it’s including infrared and visible-light LEDs, along with photosensors that will detect pulse rate and other data. Apple didn’t go over specifics for battery life but did note it’s using an inductive wireless charging solution pictured in the gallery below.

Apple showed off a few of Apple Watch’s stock apps during the event including things you’d expect, like music control for a connected iOS device or Mac, notifications (with haptic feedback), and the ability to swap out watch faces. Haptic feedback plays into interesting new messaging features that let users tap and draw to communicate. For instance, the feature lets users capture and send their heartbeat to one another.

It also showed off integration with iOS devices and Mac to curate content that appears on the device, for example, favoriting photos on other devices make them available to view on Apple Watch. Apple also demoed navigation on the device with walking directions that use haptic feedback to notify users for turn-by-turn directions:

As expected, fitness is also a big part of the Apple Watch software with dedicated Fitness and Workout apps that include features for tracking fitness metrics and sharing that data with the Health app in iOS 8. The device also works with the company’s new Apple Pay payment solution.

Apple is making the device open to third-party developers as well (many of which have already created experiences) through an SDK for developers. Apple noted a few apps today including BMW, Pinterest, Facebook, MLB, Honeywell, Nike, and others that are already developing apps for Apple Watch.

Apple Watch will arrive in three models– Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport, and Apple Watch Edition– with various sizing options and unique features for each. For instance, the Apple Watch Sport models feature a plastic band and aluminum body, while the Apple Watch Edition features high-end materials like 18k gold. The standard Apple Watch features stainless steel with plastic, leather, or steel bands. Apple Watch works with iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, and iPhone 5.

Apple Watch will start at $350. Full details on pricing and availability are here.

Apple Unveils Apple Watch—Apple’s Most Personal Device Ever

“Apple introduced the world to several category-defining products, the Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “And once again Apple is poised to captivate the world with a revolutionary product that can enrich people’s lives. It’s the most personal product we’ve ever made.”

“With Apple Watch, we’ve developed multiple technologies and an entirely new user interface specifically for a device that’s designed to be worn. It blurs the boundary between physical object and user interface,” said Jony Ive, Apple’s senior vice president of Design. “We’ve created an entire range of products that enable unparalleled personalization.”

Apple Watch introduces a revolutionary design and iOS-based user interface created specifically for a smaller device. Apple Watch features the Digital Crown, an innovative way to scroll, zoom and navigate fluidly, without obstructing the display. The Digital Crown also serves as the Home button and a convenient way to access Siri®. The Retina® display on Apple Watch features Force Touch, a technology that senses the difference between a tap and a press, providing a new way to quickly and easily access controls within apps. Apple Watch introduces the Taptic Engine and a built-in speaker that together discreetly enable an entirely new vocabulary of alerts and notifications you can both hear and feel. Apple custom-designed its own S1 SiP (System in Package) to miniaturize an entire computer architecture onto a single chip. Apple Watch also features Wi-Fi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 4.0 to pair seamlessly with your iPhone.

Apple Watch comes in three distinct collections—Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch Edition—available in two different sizes, 38 mm and 42 mm. The beautifully designed and durable enclosures are crafted from custom alloys of polished or space black stainless steel, space gray or silver anodized aluminum and 18-karat rose or yellow gold. Apple also created an entire range of watch straps: the high-performance elastomer Sport Band; the Milanese Loop in a flexible magnetic stainless steel mesh; the Leather Loop in soft, quilted leather that conceals magnets for quick fastening and adjustment; the leather Modern Buckle, which closes with a solid metal clasp; the leather Classic Buckle; and the stainless steel Link Bracelet. Apple Watch comes with a unique charging system that combines Apple’s MagSafe® technology with inductive charging for a quick connection that snaps into place.

Apple Watch is an extremely accurate timepiece that’s also customizable for personal expression. Apple Watch comes with 11 watch faces ranging from traditional analog faces to new faces like the dynamic Timelapse face; the Astronomy face with its interactive, real-time 3D model of the earth, sun, moon and planets; and the Solar face, a contemporary sundial. Apple Watch can be personalized in appearance and capability with additional information such as upcoming events, moonphases or your activity level, enabling millions of possible configurations.

Apple Watch includes a groundbreaking Activity app designed to help motivate you to be more active throughout the day, and an all-new Workout app designed to provide the metrics you need during dedicated workout sessions. Apple Watch uses the accelerometer, a built-in heart rate sensor, GPS and Wi-Fi from your iPhone to provide a comprehensive picture of your daily activity. The Activity app measures three separate aspects of movement: calories burned, brisk activity and how often you stand up during the day. The Workout app provides goal-setting and pacing during popular session-based workouts, such as running and cycling. The companion Fitness app on iPhone collects your activity data so you can see your activity history in greater detail. Apple Watch uses this history to suggest personal, realistic goals, reward fitness milestones and keep you motivated.

Apple introduces WatchKit, providing new tools and APIs for developers to create unique experiences designed for the wrist. With Apple Watch, developers can create WatchKit apps with actionable notifications and Glances that provide timely information. Starting later next year, developers will be able to create fully native apps for Apple Watch.

Apple Watch will be available in three collections. Apple Watch, with a polished or space black stainless steel case and a choice of straps; Apple Watch Sport, with a space gray or silver anodized aluminum case and Sport Band; and Apple Watch Edition, with an 18-karat rose or yellow gold case and a choice of straps exclusive to this collection. Apple Watch straps include the Sport Band in black, blue, green, pink and white; the Classic Buckle in black and midnight blue; the Leather Loop in bright blue, light brown and stone; the Modern Buckle in midnight blue, brown, soft pink, rose gray and bright red; the Milanese Loop in stainless steel; and the Link Bracelet in brushed stainless steel and polished space black. Apple Watch will be available in early 2023 starting at $349 (US). Apple Watch is compatible with iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus running the latest version of iOS 8.

* Apple Pay is only available in the US.

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Apple, the Apple logo, Mac, Mac OS, Macintosh, Apple Watch, iPod, iPhone, Multi-Touch, Siri, Retina, MagSafe, Apple Pay, Passbook and Apple TV are trademarks of Apple. Other company and product names may be trademarks of their respective owners.

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Using The New Apple Watch Podcasts App In Watchos 5

Apple Watch has always been able to play music on its own — first by syncing with iPhone, then by standalone streaming — but podcast playback has been much harder to achieve. A few apps have helped reduce the friction, but official Apple Podcast support has been at the top of my wish list.

Starting with watchOS 5, currently in developer beta and likely released in September, Apple Watch Series 1 and higher will finally have its own Podcasts app. For podcast listeners, this update will make cellular connectivity even more compelling and make leaving your iPhone behind a bit easier.

If you use the Podcasts app on iPhone, the Podcasts app on Apple Watch will automatically appear and sync. Shows that you subscribe to on iPhone just show up on Apple Watch when new episodes are made available. No need to manage a separate set of subscriptions. Optionally, you can manually select which shows appear on Apple Watch, but it’s not required or default.

The layout of the Podcasts app is similar to the Music app layout. Cover art for updated episodes scrolls vertically. Just tap an episode to start playback. If you want to browse further, you can scroll to the top (tap the time as a shortcut) and find Library. This lets you browse alphabetically by subscribed show, tap a show to specific episodes, or tap Episodes at the top to see all available unplayed episodes.

Alternatively, you can remotely control podcast playback on the iPhone from the Apple Watch. Just tap ‘On iPhone’ from the main view on Apple Watch, then select from Listen Now, Shows, Episodes, or Stations. That’s a handy new convenience, but the real fun is in playing podcasts directly from Apple Watch without the iPhone.

Episodes download for offline playback when available, and brand new episodes show up with a cloud icon and can be streamed over Wi-Fi or LTE. Like music playback, you need Bluetooth audio (like AirPods) to hear your entertainment.

Siri works with Podcasts on Apple Watch too. Use Siri to start playing an episode from your subscriptions, request a show in the Apple Podcast Directory without being subscribed, or subscribe to a currently playing podcast not in your library.

With the new Podcasts app on watchOS 5, the Apple Watch finally becomes a standalone podcast player — just like iPods of the old days, only with Siri, iPhone sync, and LTE in the mix.

You could already stream music and select talk radio stations with Apple Music and Radio, and Apple Podcasts on Apple Watch adds a whole new genre of audio entertainment — all without your iPhone.

For me, podcast playback from Apple Watch is especially useful during workouts. While I still prefer to run to music for a faster pace, I really enjoy listening to podcast episodes during outdoor walks and cycling for a change of pace.

I also enjoy casually listening to podcasts from my Apple Watch with my AirPods when I’m doing work around the house and yard. No need to worry about Bluetooth range and distraction from the iPhone is minimized.

Any opportunity to take a break from my iPhone and improve my focus is a great feeling.

Playing podcasts from the Apple Watch to AirPods or other Bluetooth audio is a really good experience today with watchOS 5, but there’s always room for improvement. In the future, I’d love to see a few enhancements.

Notifications for new podcast episodes appear on Apple Watch from the iPhone, but these aren’t actionable so you can’t start playing on Apple Watch from the alert. Instead the alerts just launch the watch podcast app, then you need to find the episode on your own.

I’d also like to see an option for a denser layout when you first launch the podcast app. It mirrors the design of the Music app which works well with album art, but for podcasts I prefer the more dense list view like in the Episodes section (or even the Listen Now section when viewing the iPhone library from Apple Watch). With the top level based around an artwork carousel, it can take a lot of scrolling or tapping to find what you want.

I’m not a big ‘Stations’ user, but I do like the concept of podcast playlists. While you can see Stations from the iPhone on Apple Watch, I don’t believe these are listed on the local watch library yet.

Streaming a podcast over LTE on an outdoor walk with AirPods — no iPhone required

Finally, expect battery life to take a bit of a hit when streaming podcasts for extended periods of time. I’ve tested listening to several hours of episodes from the Apple Watch with AirPods. The watch will outlast the AirPods, but you might need to charge before the end of the day. For lengthy podcast playback sessions, the iPhone may be ideal.

In the future, I think playing podcasts from the built-in speaker on the Apple Watch could be ideal. This wouldn’t be appropriate in all settings, but I can imagine a few scenarios where the option would work. The built-in speaker may need a sound boost before that’s practical though.

watchOS 5 is a big update to Apple Watch for lots of reasons, and the new Podcasts app is at the top of that list for me. Using the Apple Watch with AirPods and cellular to take Apple Music and Podcasts anywhere with me makes it my dream workout watch — nothing comes close.

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New Football Helmet Could Save The Sport

On August 19, 2012, in week two of the NFL preseason, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Austin Collie ran 17 yards out from the line of scrimmage, cut right toward the center of the field, caught a pass, and was immediately tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor. As Taylor came in for the hit, his football helmet appeared to glance off the left side of Collie’s helmet. Then the cornerback wrapped his arm around Collie’s neck and jerked the receiver’s head to the right. An instant later, Steelers linebacker Larry Foote came barreling in from the opposite side and slammed his elbow into the right side of Collie’s helmet. As the receiver fell to the ground, his helmet first hit Foote’s knee and then struck the ground face-first.

Collie sat up, dazed, and had to be helped off the field a minute later. He didn’t return to play for three weeks. The diagnosis: concussion. It wasn’t the first time Collie had suffered what’s clinically called a traumatic brain injury. On November 7, 2010, he spent nearly 10 minutes lying motionless on the 34-yard line after being hit in the head almost simultaneously by two Philadelphia Eagles players. Medics carried him off the field on a stretcher. In his first game back, two weeks later, he left in the first quarter with another concussion. He missed three more games, only to suffer yet another concussion on December 19, which ended his season.

Professional football players receive as many as 1,500 hits to the head in a single season, depending on their position. That’s 15,000 in a 10-year playing career, not to mention any blows they received in college, high school, and peewee football. And those hits have consequences: concussions and, according to recent research, permanent brain damage. It’s not just football, either. Hockey, lacrosse, and even sports like cycling and snowboarding are contributing to a growing epidemic of traumatic brain injuries. The CDC estimates that as many as 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the U.S. each year. That number includes not only professionals but amateurs of all levels, including children. Perhaps most troubling, the number isn’t going down.

In the past two years, the outrage surrounding sports-related concussions has mounted. In January 2011, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) called for a Federal Trade Commission investigation of the football helmet industry for “misleading safety claims and deceptive practices,” which the agency is currently pursuing. In June 2012, more than 2,000 former NFL players filed a class-action suit against the league as well as Riddell, the largest football-helmet manufacturer and an official NFL partner, accusing them of obfuscating the science of brain trauma. The litigation could drag on for years and cost billions of dollars.

The real issue is that lives are at stake. In 2006, this fact became tragically clear when former Philadelphia Eagles star Andre Waters committed suicide by shooting himself. Subsequent studies of his brain indicated that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a form of brain damage that results in dementia and is caused by repeated blows to the head. A sickening drumbeat of NFL suicides has followed, including former stars Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling, and Junior Seau, who by one estimate suffered as many as 1,500 concussions in his career.

For equipment manufacturers, the demand for protective headgear has never been greater. Leading companies, as well as an army of upstarts, have responded by developing a number of new helmet designs, each claiming to offer unprecedented safety. The trouble is that behind them all lie reams of conflicting research, much of it paid for, either directly or indirectly, by the helmet manufacturers or the league.

For players or coaches or the concerned parents of young athletes, it’s hard to know whom to believe. And despite all the research and development, and the public outcry, the injuries just keep coming. What makes the situation even more tragic is that a helmet technology already exists that could turn the concussion epidemic around.


The Fallen

Junior Seau’s suicide in 2012 heightened the controversy around head trauma in athletes. Colts receiver Austin Collie [above] received three game-ending concussions in 2010 before he was benched for the season.

Even if doctors could reliably diagnose concussions, identifying the injury does little to protect against it; for that, scientists need an accurate picture of what’s happening inside the head. For generations, doctors believed that concussions were a sort of bruising of the brain’s gray matter at the site of impact and on the opposite side, where the brain presumably bounced off the skull. The reality is not nearly that simple: Concussions happen deep in the brain’s white matter when forces transmitted from a big blow strain nerve cells and their connections, the axons.

To understand how that happens, it’s important to recognize that different types of forces—linear and rotational acceleration—act on the brain in any physical trauma. Linear acceleration is exactly what it sounds like, a straight-line force that begins at the point of impact. It causes skull fracture, which makes perfect sense: You hit the bone hard enough, it breaks.

Further complicating matters, the human brain is basically an irregularly shaped blob of Jell-O sitting inside a hard shell lined with ridges and cliffs. After a football tackle or a hockey check, that blob moves, and does so in irregular ways. “Rotational forces strain nerve cells and axons more than linear forces do,” Cantu says. “They’re not only stretching, but they’re twisting at the same time. So they have a potential for causing greater nerve injury.”

Strained Brains

Most helmets do a good job preventing skull fractures but do not directly address concussions.

So what’s the problem? If scientists know that a concussion is nerve strain caused largely by rotation of the brain, why can’t they figure out a way to stop the rotation?

Making things even more difficult is that every brain is different. Young brains respond differently than older brains, female brains differently than male. Researchers have also found that weaker, subconcussive hits can have a cumulative effect over time and lead to CTE, which is likely the cause of many former-player suicides. But how many hits it takes, and what kind, is unclear—and the condition can’t be diagnosed while the player is alive. Only when his brain is cut open can researchers spot the dead zones in the tissue.

The scientific ambiguity surrounding concussions clearly impedes the development of better helmets. But there’s another reason helmet technology hasn’t improved, one more troubling than gaps in our knowledge: a self-regulated industry governed by badly outdated safety standards.


Picture the head of a typical crash-test dummy, the kind you see in car commercials. It’s attached to a rigid metal arm that hangs above a cylindrical anvil topped with a hard plastic disc. A lab technician straps a football helmet to the headform, cranks the arm up to precisely five feet above the anvil, and lets it drop—crack. Inside the dummy head, an accelerometer positioned at the center of gravity records the linear acceleration transmitted during impact. This brutish trial is called a vertical drop test, and it’s the basis for how all football helmets are certified safe by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), an association funded by equipment manufacturers, which in turn funds much of the research on sports-related head trauma. The standard has remained largely unchanged since its creation in 1973.

Now think back to Austin Collie’s concussion in August 2012—the jerking of the head after the initial hit, the collisions with Larry Foote’s elbow and the ground. Those impacts don’t look much like the straight-line force of the NOCSAE drop test. And that brings up a very important question, perhaps the central question scientists and helmet makers are trying to solve today: Is the linear acceleration measured by a drop test correlated to rotational acceleration, and if so, by how much?

Shock Treatment

A horizontal impact test.

Untold lives and billions of dollars in sales, medical fees, and litigation costs could depend on a clear answer. If the relationship between the forces is strong, the key to reducing rotational acceleration is the same as reducing linear acceleration: Add more padding. Clearly helmet manufactures would prefer such a simple solution. If the connection is weak, however—or at least weak in the most dangerous hits—more padding will do little to reduce concussions, and companies will need to rethink current designs entirely, a very costly endeavor.

In 2003, a New Hampshire–based company named Simbex introduced a research tool called the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS). Among other things, it seemed to have the potential to answer the question of correlation. HITS is an array of six spring-loaded accelerometers positioned inside a helmet to record the location and severity of significant impacts. After any hit over a certain threshold, the system beams the data to a companion device on the sidelines. Coaches can monitor players in real time, and researchers get reams of real-world data to dig through. Stefan Duma, the founding director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Injury Biomechanics, is among those working with HITS data; at his urging, every player on the university’s football team wears a HITS-equipped helmet. After analyzing data from two million impacts, Duma says there is a clear and strong connection between linear and rotational forces.

Unfortunately, other researchers say it’s not that simple. The correlation is high if you look at all hits, they say, but it falls apart when you look at highly angular ones—the hits that carry a greater risk of concussion. “Take an extreme example,” says Boston University’s Cantu. “If you impact the tip of the face mask, if you have another player coming at it sideways, you’re going to spin the head on the neck and have very low linear acceleration and very high rotational acceleration.”

In essence, the system created to answer questions about concussions has raised a lot more questions. The resulting confusion sets off a cascade of effects. Unclear science makes for unclear standards, and unclear standards leave a lot of room for interpretation. The impact on the helmet industry is conspicuous: It’s become a free-for-all.


In December 2010, a longtime auto-racing safety equipment maker named Bill Simpson happened to attend one of the Colts games in which medics helped Austin Collie off the field after a concussion. Following the incident, Simpson asked the Colts’ offensive coordinator, a friend, what had happened to his receiver.

“Oh, that’s just part of the game,” the coach said.

Simpson saw an opportunity. In auto racing, he’s known as the Godfather of Safety, and once set himself on fire to demonstrate the efficacy of one of his racing suits. He figured he could make a better football helmet, so he got to work in his Indianapolis warehouse. By 2011, several pros, including Collie, were wearing early experimental versions of Simpson’s helmet.

Impact Tracker

Coaches and medics can use the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS) to monitor the force and location of certain tackles from the sidelines.

That an individual inventor could develop, produce, and deliver a product into the hands of professional athletes speaks to the upheaval in the world of helmet manufacturing. What was once a rather staid industry dominated by a few large companies has now grown to include an increasing number of upstart firms, serial entrepreneurs, and individual inventors. The result has been a proliferation of new designs. Mainstream helmet makers have stuck with variations on previous models: polycarbonate shells filled with various densities and thicknesses of padding. Newcomers have developed more creative, albeit less rigorously tested, approaches. Perhaps the best-known is the bizarre-looking Guardian Cap, a padded sock that slips over a typical helmet. Another approach that received a lot of attention in 2011, the Bulwark, came from the workbench of an aerospace engineer and self-professed “helmet geek” in North Carolina; it had a modular shell that could be configured to match the demands of different players. It never made it out of prototype stage.

For his part, Simpson officially launched his SGH helmet in October 2012 to immediate fanfare. Sports Illustrated “injury expert” columnist Will Carroll tugged one on and had someone whack him over the crown of the head—a strong, almost purely linear force. He reported not feeling much at all. His conclusion: This helmet must work.

When I called Simpson to discuss the helmet and ask how it reduces the forces responsible for concussion, he mentioned that none of the neuroscientists he’s spoken with have been able to tell him what forces actually cause a concussion. “How do you know you’re stopping the right forces, then?” I asked him. “If you don’t know what’s causing a concussion, how can you prevent it?”

The Helmet That Might Save Football

“Does it specifically address rotational acceleration?” I asked.

He laughed. “No helmet does that.”

I tried a more direct approach: “Can you make claims about concussion reduction with your helmet?”

“Oh, hell no,” he said, “I would never make a claim about that.”

The NFL, at least since Congress took an interest, has gotten serious about sorting out who is claiming what—or not. “There is not a week that passes that I don’t see a new device,” says Kevin Guskiewicz, a University of North Carolina sports medicine researcher and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient who also chairs the NFL’s Subcommittee on Safety Equipment and Playing Rules. “There’s a binder weighing down the corner of my desk. I don’t think you’re going to see the NFL flat-out endorsing a product, but they certainly feel that they’re responsible for trying to help prevent these injuries. So we’re going to be reviewing these technologies in order to say, here are three or four that need to be studied further.”

Stefan Duma

Duma, a biomedical engineer at Virginia Tech, studies the forces exerted on a helmet during a vertical-drop test.

The boldest claim from mainstream helmet makers comes, perhaps not surprisingly, from Riddell. The company’s newest helmet, the 360, builds on a system called Concussion Reducing Technology (CRT), which it first launched in 2002. According to a highly adrenalized promotional video, which has since been removed from the Riddell website, engineers designed CRT in response to an NFL-funded study by a Canadian research lab called Biokinetics. Researchers looked at film from actual NFL hits that resulted in concussions and attempted to map their location, distance, and speed. The two main findings: that rotational acceleration is a major factor in concussions, and that players get hit a lot on the side of the head.

In response to the study, the designers developing CRT added energy-attenuating material (extra padding) to side- and front-impact areas. They also increased the overall dimensions of CRT-equipped helmets by a few millimeters to allow for still more padding. The designers of the 360 built on the CRT but went a step further, adding an even greater amount of padding to the impact areas. It wasn’t clear to me how those changes addressed rotation—the single greatest factor in the concussions that CRT and the 360 helmet meant to reduce. So I asked Riddell’s head of research and development, Thad Ide. “Well, in many cases the linear acceleration and the rotation that linear imparts go hand in hand,” he said, echoing Duma’s HITS findings at Virginia Tech. “Reducing linear forces will reduce the rotational forces.”

So the question remains: If addressing linear force is the key, and better padding is the way to do that, then why hasn’t the number of concussions decreased? “You haven’t seen it change because [the helmet makers] haven’t addressed it,” says the University of Ottawa’s Hoshizaki.


In a small room off the basement garage of a building on the outskirts of Stockholm, an entirely different kind of helmet test is taking place. Peter Halldin, a biomechanical engineer at the Royal Institute of Technology, is strapping a helmet onto a dummy head affixed to a custom drop-test rig. Rather than slamming a helmet into a stationary anvil, as in the NOCSAE test, Halldin’s rig drops it onto a pneumatic sled that moves horizontally. By calibrating the angle of the helmet, the height of the drop, and the speed of the sled, Halldin says he can more accurately re-create the angular forces that result in rotational acceleration than other labs can. Within the dummy head, nine accelerometers measure the linear force transmitted during impact; a computer nearby calculates rotational acceleration from that data.

Today Halldin is testing two ski helmets that are identical except for one thing: Inside one, a bright yellow layer of molded plastic attached with small rubber straps sits between the padding and the head. This is the Multidirectional Impact Protection System (MIPS), which is also the name of a company he co-founded. Halldin spends about half of his time as CTO of MIPS and the other as a faculty member of the Royal Institute.

The idea behind MIPS is simple: The plastic layer sits snugly on a player’s head beneath the padding. By allowing the head to float during an impact, MIPS can eliminate some of the rotational force before it makes its way to the brain.

First up in Halldin’s test is the non-MIPS helmet. Halldin flips on a high-speed camera and steps back from the impactor, ready to catch the helmet on its rebound. “Five, four, three, two, one…” There’s a loud clattering as the sled shoots forward at 22 feet per second and the helmet drops to meet it at 12 feet per second—crack.

I can see on the computer that the head sustained about 170 Gs of linear force, and it rotated 14,100 radians per second squared (the standard scientific metric for rotation). It’s a big hit, one that would probably result in a concussion or worse.

Dave Duerson

27 Nov 1988: Quarterback Don Majkowski of the Green Bay Packers (left) attempts to evade Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson during a game at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears won the game, 16-0. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel /All PSC0113_Helmet

Now comes the second helmet. Every variable is the same as in the first test except for the addition of the low-friction MIPS layer. “Five, four, three, two, one…”—crack. This time the computer shows rotation of 6,400 radians per second squared, a 55 percent reduction.

Halldin starts in on a detailed explanation of the effects of multiple impact tests on the performance of a helmet over time, but I interrupt: “How would you characterize that test result?”

He looks at the colorful graphs on the computer screen again. If the test dummy were a football player, he would have just walked away from a game-ending impact without a concussion. Halldin smiles just a bit, and permits himself a very un-Swedish boast. “I would say that’s f––king amazing.”

Halldin is careful not to claim the MIPS system can create those kinds of results in all impacts in all helmets. But, he says, “we can reduce rotation in all directions, and it’s significant in most directions. We might get 35 percent in one direction, 25 percent in another direction, and 15 percent in another. And hopefully the 15 percent is not in the most common impact direction for that sport.”

MIPS is not new: The company’s roots go back to 1997, when Hans von Holst, a neurosurgeon at Stockholm’s Karolinska Hospital (the same hospital that adjudicates the Nobel Prize for medicine), got tired of seeing patients come in with brain injuries from hockey and other sports, and decided to do something about it. He joined up with Halldin at the Royal Institute, and together they spent the next 10 years studying traumatic brain injuries.

Rotational forces quickly became their focus, and eventually they came up with the idea for MIPS. The first product was a complete helmet, designed for the equestrian market. Although the helmet was well received, the team quickly learned that a smart concept in the lab doesn’t easily translate into a successful product launch. Production problems and quality-control issues led the team to rethink their strategy and hire a new CEO, an experienced Swedish executive named Niklas Steenberg. Steenberg took a look at the situation and decided that, like airbags in cars or Intel chips in laptops, MIPS was not an end-market product. Instead they would focus on licensing it to existing helmet companies so those manufacturers could improve their own products.

Since then, MIPS has licensed its sliding low-friction layer to about 20 helmet manufacturers, for sports from snowboarding and skiing to cycling and motocross. Recently, Steenberg decided, the company was ready to start hunting the big game—first American hockey and then the biggest of all, football.


One would think the Riddells of the world would fall all over themselves to license or create something like MIPS, a simple product that directly addresses a critical factor in concussions and incorporates easily into existing helmet designs.

Calls For Justice

Former NFL players Daryl Johnston and Dave Duerson in 2007 at a Senate hearing on disability benefits for retired athletes. Duerson committed suicide in 2011 by shooting himself in the chest. He left a note asking that his intact brain be donated to the Boston University School of Medicine for research.

“I thought we’d have people hugging us, saying, ‘Thank you!’ ” says Ken Yaffe, a former NHL executive who left the league in March 2012, after 19 years, and signed on with MIPS to help them get an audience with U.S. manufacturers. But after nearly a year of squiring Steenberg and Halldin around to different companies, he says, “we’ve been met with skepticism.”

One of the reasons, Yaffe suspects, is that current safety standards don’t require the companies to do anything more than what they’re already doing. It’s a criticism privately echoed by most helmet researchers: Simplistic certification standards provide convenient legal cover for the manufacturers. If NOCSAE certifies a company’s helmets as safe, then the company has less risk of being held responsible for injuries. On the other hand, if that same company goes above and beyond the standards, it could put itself at risk of getting sued: Suddenly all of its existing helmets would appear to be inadequate, and worse, the company might have to admit knowing that they fell short.

Duma, of Virginia Tech, points to NOCSAE’s industry funding to explain how such a situation has persisted in football. “Follow the money,” he says. “Imagine if Ford were the only organization testing its cars, and it was saying that every one got the top rating. It’s a very unusual arrangement.”

To Steenberg, the MIPS CEO, the situation is both harmful and backward. “If something is available that makes your helmet more safe, you should be held liable for not using it,” he says. It’s not the first time a new safety technology has faced such a paradox. All too often implementation hangs on the grim calculus of whether the cost to industry of adopting a safety measure is more or less than the cost to the public of going without it. When liability enters the equation, lawyers and judges and lawmakers get involved, and even the most urgent matters can end up mired in argument. For example, it took more than a decade to legislate seat belts as standard equipment in automobiles. It’s worth noting that the two companies that first popularized and implemented seat-belt standards were Saab and Volvo, both Swedish.

Change is on the horizon, though. The University of Ottawa’s Hoshizaki has a grant from NOCSAE to develop a new standard that incorporates rotation. “I want to be fair to the manufacturers,” he says. “If they could make a safer helmet, they would. I don’t think they are against it; they’re just making sure they don’t cross that line and say, ‘Yeah, we should be managing rotation,’ because that would bring up liability issues.” With a new standard, that roadblock could vanish.

One enterprising company has already launched a product to directly address rotational acceleration in another contact sport. In the summer of 2012, Bauer, the number-one helmet maker in ice hockey, released the Re-akt. Inside the helmet, a thin, bright-yellow layer of material sits loosely between the head and the padding, allowing the head to move a little bit in any direction during an impact.

Called Suspend-Tech, the layer appears, to the color, suspiciously similar to MIPS. In fact, during the development of the Re-akt, MIPS co-founder Halldin tested an early version on his impact rig at the Royal Institute. The stories diverge as to how that collaboration came about, and how Bauer came up with the idea for a sliding layer, but any questions that arise about intellectual property may not matter. Bauer’s Suspend-Tech is a significant debut: It is the first attempt by a mainstream company to include a rotational layer in contact-sports helmets. MIPS is betting that since one hockey manufacturer has embraced the idea, the rest of the field will start shopping for their own version. And that, in turn, could create enough momentum for MIPS to break into the football market.

In perhaps the most hopeful sign of all, the NFL acknowledges that MIPS-like products have the organization’s attention. Kevin Guskiewicz of the NFL’s safety equipment subcommittee says the league is already evaluating the concept. “We’re looking at it very seriously,” he says.

Meanwhile, as scientists do more tests and manufacturers bicker, 4.2 million people will suit up and play football this year, most of them children with still-developing brains. Every one of them needs a good helmet.

Tom Foster is based in Brooklyn, New York. This is his first story for Popular Science. It originally appeared in the magazine’s January 2013 issue.

Riddell 360

The official NFL helmet partner since 1989, Riddell launched the 360 in 2011. It has extra padding around the front and sides of the head, and the company’s signature Concussion Reducing Technology, which adds even more padding. Yet for all that foam, most experts say it does little to address rotational forces, the primary cause of concussions.

Xenith X2

Made by the nine-year-old helmet company Xenith, the X2 replaces foam padding with an array of air-filled cylinders that compress upon impact by releasing air through tiny holes. The harder the hit, the stiffer the response. Such adaptive cushioning can protect against both lower-level and higher-level forces but still does little to address rotation.

Schutt Ion 4D

Made with thermoplastic urethane cushioning that performs consistently even in extreme weather, the Ion 4D, Schutt says, “is designed with the intent to reduce the risk of concussions.” Yet the specs don’t mention rotational force, and a 2011 promotional video dismisses the idea that frequent lesser impacts are as dangerous as the rare violent one, calling it “unproven.”

Rawlings Quantum Plus

Better known for its baseball helmets, Rawlings introduced a line of football helmets a few years ago that, like Riddell’s, relies on what’s called large-offset design—in other words, increased distance between the head and the shell in order to make more room for extra padding.

SGH Helmet

This startup from the self-proclaimed Godfather of Safety, motorsports-equipment legend Bill Simpson, says it makes the lightest helmet on the market. Its shell includes Kevlar and carbon fiber; its padding consists of a single layer of a proprietary composite whose makeup Simpson won’t divulge until it is patented.

Guardian Cap

Developed by Atlanta engineer Lee Hanson, the Guardian Cap is a padded sock worn over a standard helmet. Critics say the Guardian could get caught during impact, causing neck injuries and exacerbating rotation. Hanson says the sock would just slip off. As for the obvious aesthetic issues, he says the Guardian is meant only for practice, not games.

Apple’s ‘Made In Usa’ Mac Could Be The Next

The industry was taken aback a little when Tim Cook on Friday told NBC’s Brian Williams in his first TV interview since becoming the CEO that Apple plans to bring some of the manufacturing jobs back home from China. He even went on to confirm that the company pledged to spend a hundred million bucks to make it happen, but stopped short of specifying which Macs would be assembled in the United States.

By all accounts, Apple’s flagship desktop machine aimed at pros – the Mac Pro – is at the center of the company’s renewed interest to bring some Mac production back to the country. First and foremost, the Mac Pro is way overdue for a hardware upgrade, having been last refreshed 427 days ago, or nearly a year and half ago…

We know from Cook’s earlier remarks that a major Mac Pro update is due some time in 2013. Next, Dan Luria, a labor economist at Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center who studies factory operations, told Bloomberg that a $100 million US plant employs about 200 people and produces about 1 million units per year.

In other words, the factory is unable to make more than a million Macs annually and only the Mac Pro and Mac mini sell fewer than a million units per year each.

As for the factory, outside involvement may increase the total of the $100 million investment and watchers think Foxconn is a likely partner on the Mac investment, though it hasn’t broken ground yet.

The Mac Pro, not the iMac, will be made in the US starting next year.

The Mac Pro, not the iMac, will be made in the US starting next year.

Mind you, Apple’s not alone in bringing manufacturing jobs back home.

Lenovo will assemble computers in Whitsett, North Carolina, starting next year. Another example: Hewlett-Packard in its Indianapolis plant, along with Foxconn and 1,300 workers, will assemble around 2.9 million PCs this year.

But why make just the Mac Pro in the US?

For starters, these desktops are considerably heavier and more expensive to ship, hence it makes sense to assemble them at home.

Philip Elmer-DeWitt of Fortune offers another sensible reason:

Any extra labor costs associated with manufacturing in the U.S. can be more easily absorbed by a $2,500-$3,800 Mac Pro than by an iMac or a MacBook that sell for less than $1,000.

Analyst Rob Enderle agrees Cook was likely referring to larger, lower-value Macs that Apple wants to sell locally. It could also be a matter of pride, Enderle argued:

Cook is looking to give Apple some good news. He doesn’t want people thinking about Apple as a declining company that Steve Jobs used to run.

Obviously, “a big-value product, like an iPhone or an iPad, would be a bigger deal”, per the analyst.

And if I may add, the paper’s iEconomy series could be a factor as well.

It’s also worth mentioning that Apple is adding about 3,600 support workers over the next decade to its 3,500-person customer support center in Austin, Texas.

Apple’s campus in Austin, Texas.

Apple’s campus in Austin, Texas.

The iPhone maker also runs a plant in Elk Grove, California, where it used to make some of the Macs until then op-chief Tim Cook moved all operations to China in 2004. A SEC filing tells us Elk Grove now handles warehousing, distribution and a support call center.

Interestingly enough, the facility has grown in headcount lately though there’s no way of telling whether it’s big enough to produce gadgets in volume.

Of course, if you change an angle then most of your iPhone is actually made in the US.

That is, if you count product design, software development, product management, marketing and other high-value and high-wage engineering functions. The iPhone’s sturdy glass comes from Corning, which has a facility in Kentucky, and its engine is being fabbed by Samsung at the $14 billion facility in Austin, Texas, seen below.

According to The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a product can bear the ‘Assembled in USA’ sticker if a ”substantial transformation” happened in the US:

A product that includes foreign components may be called “Assembled in USA” without qualification when its principal assembly takes place in the U.S. and the assembly is substantial.

For the “assembly” claim to be valid, the product’s last “substantial transformation” also should have occurred in the U.S. That’s why a “screwdriver” assembly in the U.S. of foreign components into a final product at the end of the manufacturing process doesn’t usually qualify for the “Assembled in USA” claim.

Example: A lawn mower, composed of all domestic parts except for the cable sheathing, flywheel, wheel rims and air filter (15 to 20 percent foreign content) is assembled in the U.S. An “Assembled in USA” claim is appropriate.

The FTC specifically describes what the ‘Assembled in USA’ label entails for a computer vendor:

Example: All the major components of a computer, including the motherboard and hard drive, are imported. The computer’s components then are put together in a simple “screwdriver” operation in the U.S., are not substantially transformed under the Customs Standard, and must be marked with a foreign country of origin. An “Assembled in U.S.” claim without further qualification is deceptive.

Apple’s boss acknowledged as much, suggesting that the return of jobs would go beyond simple assembly procedures. Most of Apple’s gear is currently being done in China by Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturer and Apple’s favorite product assembler.

But 9to5Mac thinks some new iMacs could already be made in the US, shipping from Fremont, California, where Apple in the 1990s had been building Macs before it outsourced manufacturing to China.

Here’s a nice video of the Fremont, California plant where Macs used to be made.

A spokesman for Foxconn, which also has plants in Texas and California, confirmed the company is looking into “doing more manufacturing in the US”. Its CEO Terry Gou thinks the U.S. has “high-value engineering talent” (as opposed to China’s “low-cost labor”).

At any rate, I’m betting you must be glad Mac manufacturing is returning home, no?

And does a ‘Made in USA’ Mac Pro tell us anything about the machine itself?

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