5 June 2013, 19:48

Wearable tech – fad or future?

технологии технологический прорыв мир земля 2012 декабрь коллаж
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We’ll see what’s going on in the world of wearable technology. Well, for now – not much. I wouldn’t call it “silence before the storm” – there are a few notable gadgets on the market – but the real test for the whole industry which will show whether it’s a fad, a niche market or the future of gadgets, will come once Google starts selling its much-hyped Glass devices worldwide; let’s not forget Apple’s “secret” project. Hey, let’s start our broadcast with that one, anyway.

 

Like with most Apple’s clandestine projects, their smart watch is a well-known secret. Like with the iPhone and the iPad, everyone knows they’re working on it… and that’s pretty much it. What exactly it will look like, what kind of functionality it will offer will be unveiled only during the official presentation if Apple’s “secret police” remains vigilant. I think it’s safe to say that this aura of secrecy and rumors is a powerful marketing tool utilized by Apple – by the time they show the actual product, everyone just wants to see which of the rumors happen to be true. Of course, in line with their product line, most likely the product will be called iWatch – and you get gauge user interest in it through Google autocomplete – just start typing “apple iwatch” and see how quick the search engine picks up what other users were looking for. My personal favorite is “apple iwatch 2” – come on guys, the first one hasn’t even hit the market! Anyway, here’s what’s known (or rumored) at this point of time.

According to Bloomberg, around 100 designers employed by Apple are currently “working on a wristwatch-like device that may perform some of the tasks now handled by the iPhone and iPad, two people familiar with the company's plans said." – this was published back in February. Again, according to Bloomberg’s mysterious sources, the product of this massive collaboration will hit the market this year. However, Tim Cook stated this April: “Our team is working hard on amazing hardware and software developments we can't wait to introduce in the fall and into 2014.” So, for all we know, we may not see the iWatch until next year. As far as pricing is concerned – well, that’s anyone’s guess. Personally, I think it will be in the range of Apple’s current gadget line-up, somewhere from $500 to $800. This is a bit more expensive than smart watches currently on the market, but nearly not as expensive as Google Glass. Besides, it will carry the Apple logo, which means a lot – not just in terms of prestige and customer appreciation, but that means it works in a well-developed software ecosystem and most likely will have a lot of accessories and long-term support.

Another rumor about the iWatch is its exterior – it seems it will be the first Apple product with a curved display. An article published on the New York Times’ Bits blog states that “Apple is experimenting with wristwatch-like devices made of curved glass, according to people familiar with the company’s explorations.” Not foldable, though, but still, noticeably curved. This allows for a larger screen which would not be overly bulky – basically, a rectangle gently wrapping around wearer’s arm. Oh, an remember those magnetic wrist-bands kids used to slap around their wrists in the 90s? Well, Apple basically patented a similar design for hi-tech devices. The document describes a "wearable accessory device made up of a bi-stable spring with flexible display". Of course, companies these days secure patents for technology which may not enter mass production for a few years to protect their ideas, but, you know – just putting it out there. Oh, and earlier this week Apple has been awarded a patent for curved battery cells. Without going into technical details, the patent describes such a curved battery which is used “to save space”. Seeing as how the current product line-up of the company has no need for such curves, that’s another hint at the non-flat nature of the iWatch. Other rumors pertaining to the watch suggest a 1.5 inch screen – not very big, but that depends on what it will actually do. So far most plausible rumors include Sire, navigation, Bluetooth connectivity with other devices and health monitoring. Just think about what would one need the watch for – to use as a smart gadget without constantly reaching to the pocket or holding something in one hand.

This is what other smart watches already on the market do – both launched by well-known tech companies such as Sony and Motorola and those developed by crowdfunded start-ups such as Pebbl. Most of them run Android software and are designed to work paired with a smartphone. You may check out the selection of these devices presented at the Consumer Electronics Expo this year – by sheer numbers, it’s clear that in 2014 a lot of people will be wearing or consider wearing digital watches.

So, let’s get back to Google Glass –the company adopts an approach fundamentally different from Apple’s – they show off their new devices as a work in progress and are not afraid that someone may copy their idea before it hits mass production. I’d say it’s working out great for them. They managed to find thousands of beta testers who can help polish the software part of the device – and they actually paid $1500 each for their units. In a nutshell, people use it is a personal assistant, a camera and a navigational device. It’s largely voice operated, and it can answer questions ranging from math problems to “where can I get coffee right now”. Pretty much everyone loves their device. However, a growing problem is privacy.

While some private businesses pre-emptively ban Google Glass, as reported by the media, a web hosting company Rackspace commissioned a research with the Centre for Creative and Social Technology (CAST) at Goldsmiths, University of London with regards to the device. 4,000 adults were surveyed about the rise of wearable technology: 51% expressed serious privacy concerns about the device and 69% demanded greater regulation; one if five want to simply ban wearable technology which can take photos and videos. So there you have it.

Answering these privacy concerns, this week Google announced that they won’t be using facial recognition technology in their new device. The Project Glass Google+ feed, which you should follow, by the way, if you’re interested in the device, posted “We've been listening closely to you, and many have expressed both interest and concern around the possibilities of facial recognition in Glass. As Google has said for several years, we won’t add facial recognition features to our products without having strong privacy protections in place. With that in mind, we won’t be approving any facial recognition Glassware at this time.” And Glassware, by the way, is software specially designed for Google Glass, if that wasn’t clear. So, as you can see, there’s no way one would be able to abuse the technology to “spy” on people surround them – not officially, anyway. Unfortunately, there is no hack-proof software – and I’m pretty sure soon enough third part facial recognition software will be available for those who know how to “side load” applications circumventing the official app store. What Google can do to try and protect that is to use an online check of sorts – kind of what Apple does with their hardware. Once you modify the software, you can no longer use official services available to honest customers - but that would contradict Google’s openness principle – so, we’ll see how that plays out.

By the way, wearable technology is not limited to humans! A company called Whistle has just opened pre-orders for their device which tracks your dog's health for just $100! The device looks like an average dog tag which connects to your pet's collar. Once secured on your furry friend, it measures activity and rest without any discomfort for the dog. Bio-readings it records are easily accessed and shared – so you can show it to your vet or anyone in the world, making sure your pet gets the best healthcare suited for his or her lifestyle! Amazing, really – what won’t be a gadget in ten years?

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