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The Future of Wearables: Standalone, Unobtrusive, and Everywhere 56

Posted by samzenpus
from the computer-clothes dept.
jfruh writes Wearable tech has been a pretty niche product so far, and a widely derided one at that, but moves are in the works to help the category break into the mainstream. One of the biggest irritants is that most wearable devices must pair with a smartphone to actually connect to the Internet — but an AT&T exec says that his company will be selling a standalone wearable by the end of 2014. Google Glass has been a flashpoint of conflict not least because it's extremely obvious; its creator says that subtle, non intrusive versions are coming. And while everyone wonders what Apple's play in this space will be, it may be best to imagine what they're working on as a successor to their fading iPod line.
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The Future of Wearables: Standalone, Unobtrusive, and Everywhere

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  • NOT ME !! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @08:39PM (#47421029)

    Let me begin this column with a disclaimer. Many of you will reflect on the fact that I also told Apple not to do the iPhone. But over time, I have come to realize that I was right about the iPhone and the smartphone in general. It has become a plague on humanity and a general annoyance.

    The iWatch will be worse. It will be even more annoying than the current annoyance title-holder, Google Glass.

    Of course none of this complaining is about Apple's ability to make scads of money or the distinct possibility that an Apple watch would actually be cool and perhaps astonishing (although I doubt it). It's about the idea, in general.

    I recall the days of the first electronic digital watchesâ"I actually own an original gold Fairchild LED watch (circa 1973 brand new $150; 2012 garage sale $5). All the electronics companies were looking into making watches with semiconductor innards and digital read-outs. The most prized was a huge clunker done by HP.

    So the idea of tech companies bringing out a slew of trendy wearables that everyone will want to have is not new. It appears to be right on track, part of a 40-year cycle.

    These watches from the 1970s have since been ridiculed because they were actually dumb, as I expect we will conclude again with the current offerings, once the madness dies off.

    The key to their success in the 1970s and their eventual demise was one in the same: trendiness. They began as trendy and cool. Then they were no longer trendy and cool. Done.

    Current observers looking back on the old watches say they were impractical because you needed to use both hands to tell the time. Yes, you had to hold the watch up, then with your other hand push a little button to light up the LED so you could see what time it was.

    People who look back on this flaw seriously miss the point. These watches were the prestige item of the moment. They cost over $1,000 in today's money. The idea was to make sure people knew you had one to show off.

    Thus you should have to go through a two-handed process. Not to get the time, but to alert those nearby that you were cool and probably rich. The process was a ritual.

    Ritualization history will repeat itself with overpriced watch usage once again. When will we finally exit this age of posturing and showing off between fellow true believers in tech junk? Probably never.

    With iWatch (and Android Wear watches) there will be more than a button push just to get the time. These new devices are equipped to do all sorts of useless things you can show off. "Oh look, my heart is racing." "Oh look, my blood pressure is up." "Oh look, I can eat a donut and my blood sugar is the same." "Oh look, yesterday I walked over a mile while inside the mall!" "Oh look, the atmospheric pressure just changed. Did you feel it?" And on and on and on.

    The only thing that will differentiate new smartwatches from the LED high-tech watches of the 1970s is that these things will never be used as a watch.

    The emergence of smartwatches also explains why the already too-small-to-handle GSM phone SIM card is shrinking into nothing. It needs to fit inside wearables that double as phones, probably through an earpiece.

    I have to assume that you will or should have some sort of earpiece in all the time as you can expect the future iWatch to be another outlet for Siri. I can see the demo on stage now with Tim Cook or some nameless functionary talking to their wrist like they are old pals.

    The iWatch will be something everyone will want and it will pack them in at the Apple store through Christmas. After that I'm not so sure. Once announced we'll see more news stories about people lining up outside the Apple Store to buy the watch, like they did for iPhone. And the cycle begins again, adding to the worst tech possible for mankind.

    Don't expect to see me buying one.

    NOT I !!

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @08:44PM (#47421055) Homepage Journal

    Bill Gates, Andy Grove, and Jerry Sanders (Heads of MicroSoft, Intel, and AMD, Advanced Micro Devices) were in a high-powered business meeting. During the serious, tense discussion, a beeping noise suddenly is emitted from where Jerry is sitting. Jerry says, "Oh, that's my beeper. Gentlemen, excuse me, I need to take this call." Jerry lifts his wristwatch to his ear and begins talking into the end of his tie. After completing this call, he notices the others are staring at him. Jerry explains, "Oh, this is my new personal communication system. I have an earpiece built into my watch and a microphone sewn into the end of my tie. That way I can take a call anywhere."

    The others nod, and the meeting continues.

    Five minutes later, the discussion is again interrupted when Andy starts beeping. He states, "Excuse me gentlemen, this must be an important call." Andy taps his earlobe and begins talking into thin air. When he completes his call, he notices the others staring at him and explains, "I also have a personal communication system. My earpiece is actually implanted in my earlobe, and the microphone is actually embedded in this fake tooth."

    The others nod, and the meeting continues.

    Five minutes later, the discussion is again interrupted when Bill emits a thunderous fart. He looks up at the others staring at him and says, "Somebody quickly get me a piece of paper... I'm receiving a fax!"

  • We have all read of situations where Google Glasses have been snatched off a wearer's head. At the very least it is assault and battery and probably grand theft as well. In some states those charges might get they key sort of thrown away as even with a plea bargain a five year sentence on a first offense would be easily justified. My state has special laws that protect people over 65 and such an event might really cause a 20 year sentence to be applied or in a three strike state it might mean life
  • As intrusive as the Google Glass has proven to be, it will only be worse when observation recording tech is more difficult to detect.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I've been wearing hidden cameras in my clothing, hats, glasses, my car, my house and everywhere else I get a chance. Nobody every complains because I keep it secret. I have been doing this for over 10 years now. I am sure many more have too. Glad to see you are catching on here in the year 2014.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes.... and make no mistake, it is coming. Full time HD video in unnoticeable form factors is just around the corner. It's being worked on right now.

      • by EkriirkE (1075937)
        It's been around for years. Fake car key fobs, watches, glasses, clocks, lovable stuffed bears, smoke detectors
    • As intrusive as the Google Glass has proven to be, it will only be worse when observation recording tech is more difficult to detect.

      It is actually the intrusiveness that bothers people. Most people don't really care if they are recorded, as long as it isn't obvious and in their face. Not many people are bothered by store security cameras, etc.

      • by exomondo (1725132)
        I agree, I think the objection is to how intrusive and obvious it is. If somebody surreptitiously records you on their smartphone it's probably not that much of an issue even if you do happen to notice, but if somebody is recording you by holding their phone up in your face it's much worse.
      • by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @01:43AM (#47422311) Journal

        It is actually the intrusiveness that bothers people. Most people don't really care if they are recorded, as long as it isn't obvious and in their face. Not many people are bothered by store security cameras, etc.

        The difference is that we know what a store security camera is going to do with the recording: record over it in XY days.
        We don't know what [random glasshole] is going to do with the recording they make of us.

        So it really doesn't matter what the recorder's unspoken intent is, what causes discomfort is the recordee's uncertainty.

    • by Sloppy (14984)

      As intrusive as the Google Glass has proven to be, it will only be worse when observation recording tech is more difficult to detect.

      I disagree. The exact opposite: when people stop noticing, they will stop caring. It won't be perceived as intrusive anymore, and people will be less annoyed by it.

      It's the conspicuousness of the camera in Google Glass, the constant reminder that you might be recorded, that makes most people feel creeped out. For the previous decade leading up to that product, nobody cared

  • by QuietLagoon (813062) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @08:47PM (#47421081)

    ...Google Glass has been a flashpoint of conflict not least because it's extremely obvious...

    Let me fix that typo for you...

    Google Glass has been a flashpoint of conflict not least because it's extremely obnoxious.

  • Battery life (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ensignyu (417022) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @08:57PM (#47421141)

    No, the biggest irritants are battery life and price. Putting a standalone cell radio in a watch will make the battery life even worse than the 24-48 hours that the latest crop of Android-based watches get with real usage. And the cell radio costs more and will probably have lousy antennas.

    I can see why AT&T would want a cell-connected watch: so they can charge you an extra $5-$10 a month to add another device to your plan.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      you have been able to buy cellphone watches for years now. Search ebay for "GSM watch"

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I recently spent 2 weeks overseas.

      Put my home-simcard in my smart watch (I'm not going to advertise for it even though I am AC). I turned mobile data off (avoid roaming charges), but left it on the phone network (emergency phone + send/receive SMS to my normal phone number).

      I made no calls, and sent/received very few SMSes and the battery would go down approximately 12% per day. I would preriodically check the time [like a real watch!!], which involved pushing one button [activates the screen] and pushing

    • i agree that battery life is the #1 issue. if it cant even go a week without needing a charge, it's not really worth using.

    • And the cell radio costs more and will probably have lousy antennas.

      You can easily integrate a lambda over 4 antenna into the wristband it would only have to be 4" long for the lower cell frequencies

  • by m00sh (2538182) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @09:05PM (#47421169)

    We are so bad at predicting the future but we still do it over and over again. We are mostly wrong and we always forget how wrong we were

    Here are some of the future wearable and apple stories on slashdot from the past:

    We have said some pretty crazy things and we have been saying the age of wearable for almost five years.

    • Everyone knows that the year of wearable computing is the year after the year of Linux on the desktop.....

      The only problem with that is I have now had Linux on my desktop for TWENTY-ONE YEARS.

    • by T.E.D. (34228)

      We are so bad at predicting the future but we still do it over and over again. ... Flexible Phones 'Out By 2013' [slashdot.org]

      I read that one. Then a couple of months ago I was in a cellphone carrier's store, and saw one of those new curved phones. I immediately thought, "Cool! Those new flexible phones Slashdot was talking about are out now!". So of course I immediately picked it up and tried to bend it...

      The store clerks were not pleased.

  • by mfh (56) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @09:46PM (#47421401) Journal

    Unobtrusive to me means that the technology does only what I want it to but we all know that technology today serves its master, which is NOT the end user. This is an invasion.

  • "Wearables won't break through until they can work without a phone, partnership chief Glenn Lurie said" -- Yes, I want to replace my old school Casio Data Bank 150 calculator watch ASAP! I do not want to use a mobile phone with the watch. I still want basic features like long battery life, scheduler, phone directory, calculator, alarms, etc.

    • Re:Without a phone? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @10:27PM (#47421599) Journal

      I think it's doable, depending on what you want it to do. Considering you example of the Casio Data Bank 150 [casio.co.jp], about the only thing that needs Internet access would be the scheduler for keeping your calendar in-sync. Personally, I'd drop the phone directory because I have that on my phone. Calculator, stop watch, alarm, etc. are all doable without the Internet.

      If the watch is something you glance at ("Whoops! Time for my 2:00 meeting!") or use momentarily ("What is 17% of $7392?"), I don't think there'll be a problem with battery life. But if the theory is that my smart watch will replace my smart phone, I don't think so.

  • I thought we didn't have the battery technology to really make this idea fly yet... I thought the reason why the leading smart watch (Pebble) is so successful is because it is *not* standalone, and as such as excellent integration with your phone and very good battery life.
    What do I know, I guess I'm just not in a sufficiently mindless consumer mindset. I'll never understand this idiocy.
    • by Dr Max (1696200)
      i've got a standalone smart watch phone (omate true smart). i get almost 2 days of use, but i'm not a heavy user (i would get 3-4 out of smart phone). Works fine as a phone, although i have it upside down so i can easily put it to me ear. typing can be a little tricky sometimes, but the flesky keyboard helps out a lot. i enjoy not having to remember my phone or have it jumping around in my pocket.
      • So it does neither watch nor phone well. Great. Where can I buy one?
        • by Dr Max (1696200)
          nice work completely missing the point, then making up your own to support your own notions. You would make a good politition. The phone works just as well the phone on my old smartphone (maybe even easier as i can l link my hands behind my head to take a call) wearing it upside down is no issue because it just as easy to use, and its saphire screen dosn't scratch. It tells me the time much better than my smartphone did (and its better than a bunch of watches, because its readable in any light, even if i do
  • by jxander (2605655) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @10:46PM (#47421687)

    Those last two are actually contradictory.

    The more "everywhere" this tech gets, the less unobtrusive it becomes (or rather, the more obtrusive)

  • Probably the most useful configuration, mounting a small tablet to the back of one's forearm. Easy to use, no need to occupy a hand, mostly out of the way when not needed. Kind of like a smartwatch, only more useful due to the larger size. Head-mounted configurations seem prone to issues, especially regarding distractions in the visual area while performing activities requiring full attention.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @01:16AM (#47422217)

    What I want is a wearable computer that belongs to me. Not a device that I basically rent and that works for its maker more than me.

    In other words, it's not bloody likely that I'll ever get one. Unless parts get cheap enough that building your own becomes an option.

  • Personal Hub (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Simon Brooke (45012) <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:16AM (#47422709) Homepage Journal

    Probably the future of wearables is the personal hub.

    The problem with wearables is that a radio capable of sustaining a connection to the outside world - be it 4g or wifi - needs a fair bit of power and consequently quite a lot of battery. So devices have to be fairly chunky, or else have to be recharged more often than you'd like. But your bluetooth mouse probably goes months on one charge - mine certainly does. So the solutions is to have a device mounted discreetly on your belt or in your handbag, or carried in a pocket, which just acts as a personal hub/firewall, doing backhaul for your wearables. It doesn't need a screen. It doesn't need apps. But once it's paired with your wearables, you can use a device which has no backhaul capability to make phone calls or to access any service on the Internet.

    This is an extension of how Google Glass or your Pebble watch already uses your smartphone. The smartphone acts as a personal hub. But if the display you actually use is the one on your Glass or the one on your Pebble, you don't need the big, fragile, power-hungry screen on your smartphone any more; so the personal hub can be cheaper and much more durable than any smartphone.

    Once you've got that concept, there are other services that a personal hub can supply to your wearables, for example storage.

    • by peragrin (659227)

      while not a bad concept, just remember android wearables have at best a 36 hour battery life.

      It is the screen and battery size that are killing these things.

    • Probably the future of wearables is the personal hub.

      The problem with wearables is that a radio capable of sustaining a connection to the outside world - be it 4g or wifi - needs a fair bit of power and consequently quite a lot of battery. So devices have to be fairly chunky, or else have to be recharged more often than you'd like. But your bluetooth mouse probably goes months on one charge - mine certainly does. So the solutions is to have a device mounted discreetly on your belt or in your handbag, or carried in a pocket, which just acts as a personal hub/firewall, doing backhaul for your wearables. It doesn't need a screen. It doesn't need apps. But once it's paired with your wearables, you can use a device which has no backhaul capability to make phone calls or to access any service on the Internet.

      This is an extension of how Google Glass or your Pebble watch already uses your smartphone. The smartphone acts as a personal hub. But if the display you actually use is the one on your Glass or the one on your Pebble, you don't need the big, fragile, power-hungry screen on your smartphone any more; so the personal hub can be cheaper and much more durable than any smartphone.

      Once you've got that concept, there are other services that a personal hub can supply to your wearables, for example storage.

      I suggest we use a switch instead of a hub and we call it a 'fabric'...

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