Posted by Jim Martin 14 March 2014
The future of wearable tech - where is this bandwagon headed?
It’s early days for wearable technology, but there’s already a lot of promise. Companies including Fitbit and Nike have seen considerable success from their activity trackers, which do a very specific job.
Some might call these devices glorified pedometers, but the point is that they do something your smartphone can’t do. No runner actually wants to strap their iPhone to their arm – they’d sooner don a lightweight Fitbit or TomTom GPS watch to track their achievements.
On the other hand, there’s a new breed of ‘smart’ watch, which hasn’t yet generated any significant sales for the few companies which have dipped their toes into the murky waters of wearable tech.
Pebble’s smartwatch was a notable success on Kickstarter, but the device itself hasn’t exactly set the world on fire.
Sony, Samsung and LG have all made attempts at a smartwatch but since no-one really knows what a smart watch should do or what they want from a smartwatch, none have been runaway hits.
As I’ve already said, current smartwatches are anything but smart, replying on a smartphone for most of their functions. Plus, they don’t do anything your smartphone can’t do.
Are smartwatches supposed to replace smartphones? If not, is there really any call for a wrist-worn device that relays notifications from a device you already carry on your person? I would argue that there isn’t.
So what should a wearable computer do? Google is rumoured to be launching an Android smartwatch – potentially called the Gem – but it’s clear that the search giant thinks Glass is where the future lies. Aside from privacy issues, Google Glass really could revolutionise the way we use tech on the move, and there are dozens of innovative apps including the brilliant Race Yourself:
This brings us back to health and fitness again, with the former being a litigious minefield. It would be literally life-changing to have a smartwatch which monitored your health and gave early warnings of illness and disease. Future smartwatches might be able to detect you have diabetes or cancer, way before you notice any symptoms, or go to your GP. The problem is that it opens up a new set of potential court cases, with owners suing makers because their smartwatch failed to tell them they had some nasty disease.
What I want from wearable tech is for it to make my life better, easier or both. That’s what a smartphone has done and I’d consider buying a smartwatch or high-tech glasses only if it could do the same again, taking things to the next level. I like the new Pebble Steel’s ability to check how much fuel is left in your Merc, or where you parked it. The problem is that a smartphone app could do that – BMW and other manufacturers have such apps available already.
There’s another sticking point for current smartwatch designs: they look terrible. Designers need to take cues from Rolex, Tag, Breitling and other desirable watch brands – not the Casio calculator watches from the 80s (yes, I know some people think those are cool).
Then, when the engineers have figured out how to make their wearable tech charge using kinetic energy – wristwatches have been doing this for decades – and given them more processor power, they might become actually usable as well as desirable.
In the future we'll all be wearing tech gadgets in one form or another. No doubt about that. But are smartwatches the right way to go? Or will specific hardware like existing activity trackers reign supreme? Only time will tell.