Wearable Tech – The Future of Your Devices
Wearable computing. The latest buzzword from the media machine responsible for hits like “the cloud,” “big data,” and “basically every acronym on the news, because who has time for syllables!”
Taken literally, the term refers to any electronic device capable of processing or automating some function, no matter how basic, that can be attached to your person. These can be anything from a pedometer, to a wristwatch, to a 1980’s Casio Databank calculator watch, to this:
In tech parlance, however, wearable computing devices are cutting edge gizmos stuffed with accelerometers, gyroscopes, and other cool sensors. More specifically, it has become a catchall phrase for products that not only take measurements and execute advanced computations, but can communicate with other mobile devices to present users with real-time information.
Going even further, and with the help of tech companies like Google (and possibly Apple — more on that in a bit), wearable computing is quickly becoming associated with highly advanced devices that use smartphone guts to run lightweight operating systems.
Google Glass, for example, is in this class of devices. The Internet search giant’s X Labs dreamed up the augmented reality headset, which is now in beta testing, to offer wearers an enhanced view of the world around them. And to make them look ridiculous, but mostly for the AR thing. Google Glass uses some advanced tech: bone conduction audio, a built-in camera, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and of course the namesake see-through display.
Features include maps and navigation, picture and video taking, phone calls, messaging, and other feats people can’t be bothered to accomplish with their hands. The user interface is also based largely on voice recognition, so you can command Glass to take a pic or send a message at will.
The one-eye-only heads-up display for future-pirates can’t operate entirely on its own, however, and needs to be tethered to a smartphone in order for all functions to work. Looking silly is a standalone feature.
A more likely method of getting people to tote around (another) mini computer is to disguise it as something we already know. Instead of creating totally new device, and questionable fashion statement, from whole cloth, perhaps replacing something many people already wear is the best way to go. Instead of a outlandish device you wear on your face, maybe we should try something a little less extreme, you know, to ease into this wearable computing business. Oh, I don’t know, maybe…a watch?
Well, as luck would have it, Apple is widely rumored to be fielding a wearable computing product in the so-called “iWatch.” Shocking news. Current guesstimates put a potential launch at sometime in late 2014, as the current engineering team is supposedly having trouble cramming all the awesome into something you can wear on your wrist (see top image). In any case, the iWatch is said to function much like a second screen for an iDevice.
Feature set speculation ranges from banal (timekeeping, pedometer, altimeter, etc.), to the outlandish (video calling, standalone GPS navigation, flying machine). Most likely, Apple is going to hit a happy middle ground, dipping its toes in the pool with a connected wrist computer that leans heavily on another iOS device to function. Also, it won’t have a cellular antenna, meaning you can’t be this guy:
Do expect Apple to cram in the sensors, like an accelerometer, gyroscope, light sensor and other goodies snatched from the iPhone. Also look for a multitouch screen, but don’t hold your breath for a Retina display. Yields are quite low and Apple is already hurting for an iPad mini with a high-res screen.
Is that enough to make sales? Yes. It’s Apple, so I’m making a conservative estimate of shipments in the low quadrillions. But will it be enough to satiate the inner nerd? That answer is more difficult as Cupertino drives increasingly headlong into the mainstream, leaving behind niche products only the tech savvy can appreciate. Perhaps more important a question is whether the iWatch will be a “wearable computing device” at all, not just a buffed out iPod with a rubber strap.
Then again, Apple is notorious for starting ambitious projects, only to say, “Yeah, I’m bored with this. NEXT!” So we might not ever see the ballyhooed iWatch, which would make people sad.
Of course, other OEMs are waiting in the wings with their own wearable devices. Samsung already said it has a wristwatch-shaped bun in the oven (it’ll be the company’s third try, but if they wait until Apple releases the iWatch for “inspiration,” it might have a real chance this time). Microsoft is readying another go at the wrist after its defunct SPOT initiative, but I’m not sure Redmond has earned the right to be taken seriously as a computer hardware maker. Surface is not so zesty.
Will wearable computing take off, even with the help of Apple? While some of us are more than willing to strap on Google’s jokey time glasses, a lot of people barely don outerwear. Judging from the nightly news, 76 percent of the U.S. population can’t even be bothered to wear shirts. I mean, I’m writing this in my underoos; ain’t no one got time for cotton. The people here at Starbucks agree.
So, not only does Apple have to turn clothes-haters into watch-lovers, but also fill the needs of accessory aficionados, tech nerds, and self-important pundits. Easy.