After new announcements and acquisitions, a look at the devices that will change wearable computing in the very near future
Imagine a world where you politely nod and look away as the person sitting across the table looks through you while reading an e-mail on their prescription lenses. Where you share information about hours slept and heartbeat stats that were sent to your phone by your smartwatch. And horror movies and shooter games become all too real as you enter virtual reality with a display strapped to your head like the infamous facehugger from the Alien movies. Well, you can stop imagining, because that world is not far off. This year is widely regarded as the year of wearable computing, so the question is – where do we stand?
Here’s a look at some of the devices leading the wearable computing revolution:
If emerging technology is in discussion, Google’s name has to pop up somewhere, and the first open sale of the company’s head mounted wearable Glass was a massive hit, with stocks running out in a day. The device has received polarising reactions and spawned widespread debate on its impact on privacy. Vegas casinos promptly banned the device while a San Francisco bar gave Glass-wearers free drinks last month. Governments have been scrambling to make laws to make it illegal to drive with Glass on while doctors have used it to look up lesser known medicines and document patient information. With commercial availability inching closer, Google is treading carefully as the world gets used to the idea of a wearable computer.
The Rift is one wearable that garnered widespread attention, particularly in the entertainment industry, as a virtual reality (VR) alternative to the augmented reality proposed by Glass. However, talk of virtually participating in concerts and waging virtual war in Call of Duty were briefly doused when Facebook acquired the company for a paltry $2 billion (in comparison, Facebook acquired messaging app Whatsapp for a whopping $19 billion). While Facebook may soon latch on to users’ faces like the aforementioned alien parasite in some form, so far the company seems to have left the Rift well enough alone, with scary game titles like Alone In The Rift showing promise. On top of that, the recent story of how a VR game developer used the Rift to allow her bedridden grandmother to experience the outside world in her final days shows what it can do if used creatively.
Like Glass and the Rift in their current state, smartwatches have been quietly incubating for a while now, with Sony and Samsung having released two mildly successful iterations. However the company that got the formula right has been Pebble, using a simple non-touch, power sipping e-paper display and a plethora of apps and swappable watchfaces. It was at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier this year that smartwatches finally arrived, with Pebble showing that they could be elegant with their Steel series and Samsung unveiling the inspired if slightly flawed Gear 2. More recently, Google turned things upside down when it announced Android Wear, an operating system specifically for wearables. This move was followed by Motorola releasing the Wear-running Moto 360, complete with premium build and a supposedly ‘unique’ charging solution. While Motorola has kept details scarce, the Wear and 360 combination have created enough buzz to make people seriously consider a smartwatch for daily use. The ball is now sailing squarely to the other end of the court, where Apple is reportedly working on an iWatch. Interesting times ahead if you’re looking for a new timekeeping accessory.
Not quite all the way to the smartwatch but usually able to tell the time, these health focused devices have been gaining ground, with Fitbit’s Flex and Nike’s FuelBand being some popular names. Samsung’s recently released Gear Fit showed potential, bringing a brilliant AMOLED display to the mix of bland monochrome bands, but software issues and compatibility restrictions to Samsung devices have not worked in its favour.
However, since the modern smartwatch communicates well enough with health apps on phones and boasts IP67 certification or such , activity trackers may prove to be one of the shorter lived wearable trends. Case in point, Nike has supposedly just laid-off more than half of its FuelBand team at the time of writing and seems to be focusing on its fitness apps for better equipped wearable devices.
Coming back to that hypothetical world of the near future, do not be surprised if all these devices are available commercially as early as next year.
And soon we may just see people asking their spectacles for directions, smiling at notifications on watches or dodging virtual bullets with Rift on their faces while their activity trackers take note of elevated heartbeats.
Now let’s wait for Facebook to rope in Daft Punk for an Oculus Rift commercial, and we’ll know that future is here.