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Pebble set a Kickstarter record when it launched the original Pebble Smartwatch way back in 2012. That’s like the smartwatch stone age. Now it’s back with a new campaign for the Pebble Time, a smartwatch with a color e-paper screen and a somewhat more refined design than the original watch. If you think the internet might react negatively to a second Kickstarter from this company after the first one netted a whopping $10 million, you’d be wrong. It took only 17 minutes for the campaign to smash the $500,000 goal, and it’s now well into the millions.
The Pebble Time seems to have more in common with the original Pebble than the slightly more premium Pebble Steel. It looks nice, but not something you’d get away with wearing at a formal event. The body is plastic and the bezels are fairly large in relation to the screen. The back is curved to allow for a more ergonomic fit on your wrist. It still has physical buttons on the side for control rather than a touchscreen as most other smartwatches rely on. There’s also a microphone for voice interaction, but it’s not clear how that will tie into your phone yet.
Yesterday, with the simultaneous unveiling of the Samsung Galaxy Gear, Sony SmartWatch 2, and Qualcomm Toq, the smartwatch market was created out of thin air. There are some who will look back on this seminal day and breathlessly say that September 4 2013 was as important as the day that Steve Jobs held aloft the first iPhone. They will say that this was the moment that wearable computing, after decades of dreaming, finally became a reality. Me? I think these smartwatches aren’t smart at all, fall a long way short of actually providing useful wearable computing — and perhaps most terrifyingly, they have created the perfect opportunity for Apple to swoop in and steal the market, creating another iPhone- or iPad-like phenomenon.
What is a smartwatch?
Much in the same way that a smartphone is a smart phone, a smartwatch is a smart wristwatch. A smart wristwatch should fulfill all of the normal wristwatch criteria, and then add some smart functionality on top of that. A wristwatch must be comfortable, highly customizable to suit the wearer, and go for months or years without being recharged. The Gear, SmartWatch 2, and Toq, to put it mildly, are absolutely nothing like wristwatches. They all have noncustomizable straps, they’re all fairly bulky, and all have battery life that can be measured in hours rather than weeks. (See our sister site Geek.com for the full hardware and software specs of the Gear, SmartWatch 2, and Toq.)
At best, these smartwatches are wrist-worn mobile devices — but even then, they are crippled by their “from the future” appearance, limited battery life, and poor wireless connectivity. None of these devices have WiFi connectivity or a cellular modem — they all rely on being paired with a smartphone via Bluetooth for access to the internet or make calls. None of these devices look particularly good on your wrist. Heck, except for the SmartWatch 2, they’re not even splashproof as far as we can tell.
Researchers at the University of Iowa have discovered a method of converting magnetic data into optical data for free, without external electricity. This is a very big step towards flexible, cheap, throwaway plastic computers, which are gaining in popularity due to society’s recent shift towards mobile computing and “quantified self” activity monitors.
Plastic computers are fundamentally very similar to normal, metal computers — but instead of being fabricated out of wafers of silicon, plastic computers consist of organic semiconductors (polymers) that are laid down on a flexible, plastic substrate, creating organic field-effect transistors (OFETs). These OFETs don’t have the same performance characteristics as silicon, but they’re good enough for ultra-low-power mobile and wearable computing. (These are the same kind of organic semiconductors used in OLED displays, incidentally.)
While we mostly have the logic and computation side of plastic computers worked out, there are still big question marks hanging over the storage and power consumption parts of the equation. OFETs aren’t all that efficient, and current transistor densities are much too low to build usable amounts of RAM or non-volatile NAND flash on a plastic substrate. It is theoretically possible to use a thin magnetic foil that stores high-density data, much like a hard drive platter, but reading that magnetic data with organic semiconductors is hard and consumes a lot of power. Until now!
Virgin Atlantic is taking wearable tech to the skies. USA Today reports that concierges for the airline have today begun wearing Google Glass to aid in the process of checking in passengers. With the information closer than their fingertips, concierges will be able to offer passengers the latest flight, weather and event information. Glass will also offer the valuable ability to translate languages.
The articles states that at some point, the device will also be able to link a person will their food and beverage preferences. Director of information technology for Virgin Atlantic Dave Bulman said, “The whole industry needs to listen to what these passengers are calling for, and keep innovating to bring a return to the golden age of air travel. Flying should be a pleasure, not a chore.’
This project, which was launched with the help of SITA, an information technology company, will last for a six-week trial period. Should everything go well, the program could be extended to other airports.
Do you view this as a luxury experience for travel? Would it disturb you to be called by name by someone you’ve never seen before and have them know your flying preferences? It does give back a sense of importance to passengers but is it more important to recognize that all passenger information is being uploaded and shared by Virgin Atlantic concierges?
As wearable technology expands into use by various members of different professions, its great to see industries that don’t usually adopt technology quickly jump on the bandwagon. But it will also be interesting to see how privacy concerns are met.
On Friday, October 13th 2006, I suffered a traumatic brain injury in a near fatal car accident as I was traveling home from boarding school. I was placed in a medically induced coma for six days to relieve brain swelling. I was released four days later to return to school. When I awoke, I could not recognize my parents, brother, friends, or even recall my name. In order to discover what happened to me, I had to read an article in the Boston Globe that my parents had saved. I would recover my memory before my release, but the accident taught me about the fragility of life, memory, and identity. As a survivor of head injury, I believe that wearable computers will offer me the most assistance to overcome my injury.
In 2011, I was fortunate to discover one of the coolest startups for a wonderful storytelling application. Evergram was founded in December 2011, imagined as a powerful new application to collect stories and thoughts to be shared. It can even be used as a personal journal for self-reflection. I recognize the power this application gives to create great moments for genuine communication. I imagine father’s leaving precious wisdom behind, similar to Howard Stark’s recorded remark to Tony in Iron Man 2. In February 2013, Google announced the upcoming beta launch of their newest device, a foray into wearable computers, Google Glass.
Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display that can communicate with the Internet and record video and audio through voice commands. The effortless use of the camera becomes the device’s single greatest triumph as a new technology, and at the same time its biggest impediment to acceptance by the public, due to the possibility for misuse and the invasion of privacy. However, the candid mentality of memory preservation and communication behind Evergram can define and improve the purpose of the platform provided by Google Glass. With its 2014 launch to the public, Glass has tremendous potential to enhance the lives of many, mine included.
School has simply never been the same. Tasks such as note taking, keeping attentive, and participating in discussions became more difficult than before. I had missed eight days of classes — eight days worth of quizzes, tests, notes, and essays. In order to catch up, my school aided me in getting notes from my classmates and in granting me extensions on any missed homework assignments. As helpful as all these measures were, I noticed that nothing compares to being there in the moment — so much learning is achieved simply by being attentive and participating in class. My school established this idea by enforcing punishments, ranging from stricter weekday and weekend curfews to suspension, for missing more than four classes a semester. On top of catching up in class, I had to pursue outpatient therapy to recover from my injuries. Glass could have tremendously eased my recovery, allowing me not only to review the classes I missed, but also to record future classes for better preparation.
After missing out on ten days at school and six actual days of consciousness, I became a severe sufferer of FOMO. I gained a new appreciation for life, enjoying and cherishing every second as a momentous occasion, never again taking it for granted. I realized that there are so many things that I had done, joys and pains experienced, a near infinite amount of memories that would never happen again. I dreamed for a long-time of being able to experience those missed events as someone in the moment, that as easily as I could forget everything defining me, that one day I could just as easily recall, even relive the more intimate memories of my life, and I recognize the opportunity that Google Glass provides to realize this dream.
I introduced Evergram not to suggest some novel, genius way of using Google Glass, but merely point out the way that this revolutionary platform it provides could have and will improve my life. Glass goes far beyond any other device in its ability to capture precious memories whilst avoiding distraction, the loss of attention the user experiences while using technology. Its powerful ability to record from the first-person gives it a distinct advantage for the collection of important memories, reflections, and thoughts. Everyone has a story worth sharing with someone at some time, and everyone deserves the ability to share it. Perhaps, it is the dreamer in me, but I imagine a future where our great defining memories can be shared to achieve the truest sense of genuine communication, an ability to not only tell someone something, but also to show them. I see Google Glass as a critical platform in achieving this bright future of memory preservation. With the development of Glass, Evergram, and many more apps, neither discussed nor created yet, I see the possibility created for the easy collection and transmission of memories and thoughts. Google Glass remains the next major device of wearable technology to empower its users to enjoy, share, improve, and remember their lives.
THE technology rumour mills are, as ever, running hot. This time it’s all about wearable computing devices.
Google Glass controversial web-connected specs are due to hit the market some time this year; up to 10,000 pairs are said to be already on the faces of testers worldwide.
And an increasing number of feverish reports claim yet again that Apple is close to announcing a wrist-worn i-Watch.
Apple chief executive Tim Cook has been sighted wearing one. It’s said to be a Pebble, mainly used for tracking fitness, but who knows? Perhaps it’s a prototype iWatch in disguise. DoubleClick doesn’t know whether the rumours are right or not.
But we do know the computing market hype machine has sprung into life in recent months, with just about every major manufacturer other than Apple announcing plans for a wearable gadget, and many more minor ones and wannabes bouncing ideas for similar gadgets on KickStarter, the website that helps raise funds for startups.
Some pundits are proclaiming the Year of the Wearable, but DoubleClick has some doubts, as do some of the more cautious IT trends-consulting firms.
Many wearable gadgets are on the way, but early acceptance may be restrained, and it could be next year before the market begins to take off, if then.
There are two types of wearable devices: things worn on your face, like Google Glass, and those worn on your wrist or arm, which include fitness-reading bands such as the Jawbone as well as e-watches like the Pebble.
Google Glass is certainly the most controversial of the moosh-mounted wearables. You wear a small headset that looks like a pair of very slim specs, but which has a little display device mounted just above your right eye.
It can take pictures of what’s around you and record conversations, sometimes unbeknown to those nearby. It can also display weather reports, phone messages and so-called “augmented reality” information about nearby objects, perhaps bars or restaurants or maybe supermarket items.
Wearing Google Glass in a bar or restaurant is strictly a no-no, and they’re also frowned on in company meetings. In the US, several people have been nabbed for wearing them while driving.
Current test versions of Google Glass sell to approved folk for about $US1500 ($1674), but this is expected to come down to $500 or so if and when the things come to market.
Google won’t have this market to itself. Other makers who already have head-mounted gear in the market, or are planning to, include Oculus, PivotHead, Epson, and Lumus.
Then there’s the Avegant Glyph headset, a heavyweight affair that wraps right around your eyes and ears. It doesn’t display information on a screen — it delivers movies, video games and video calls direct on to your retinas. Safe? Let’s hope so.
In the wristband wearable department, a typical example is the Jawbone Up, sometimes described as a pedometer disguised as a bracelet. It coils around your wrist and measures three matters: how you move, how you sleep, and what you eat.
Like most other wearables, you must plug it into a mobile phone to transfer data to an app that stores the figures. The Jawbone Up sells in Australia for about $150.
Other fitness trackers include Nike’s FuelBand and Garmin’s forthcoming Vivofit.
Samsung since September has been marketing the $369 Gear, an e-wristwatch that links to its Galaxy smartphone and Note phablets. It notifies users of incoming phone messages, displays weather reports, includes a tiny camera and captures voice recordings. Yes, it also tells the time.
Sony has been in the wearable market longer than most with its SmartWatch, which sells for about $240 in Australia.
But at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Sony unveiled a forthcoming and completely different wrist device: the Core, a very slim band that is not so much a fitness tracker as a lifestyle logger. You wear it always, and it tracks your movements, your sleep patterns, your movie watching and even the weather on a particular day.
Linked to Sony’s LifeLog app, it gives a record of everything you’ve done, day in and day out, possibly even some things you don’t want to be reminded of. Pricing and release date are yet to be revealed.
US-based Pebble has produced a number of reasonably successful e-watches. The latest, dubbed the Steel, is good looking in steel and Gorilla Glass and has a growing number of apps that can be swapped on and off via iPhone or Android mobiles.
The Steel can be ordered from Pebble’s US-based online store at getpebble.com, $US249 ($278). Standard (ie, slow) shipping is free; courier delivery within five business days costs $28.
Other outfits that have announced plans to launch wearable gadgets in coming months, among them Taiwan’s Acer, Asus and HTC and South Korea’s LG, though details are sparse.
Is there a place for all. How big will the wearable market get?
Nowhere near as big as some of the wild estimates coming out of the US and Asia, according to Deloitte consulting.
At a media briefing in Sydney a few weeks ago, Deloitte executives suggested that the smart fitness-band market, while moderately healthy, would never go mainstream.
It estimated the total market for fitness bands and smart watches this year would be about four million bands and two million watches: pretty small beer compared with the booming markets for smartphones and tablets.
Deloitte suggested smart glasses would generate more revenue — especially from businesses and mining groups, where they might fill a niche for safety products — with sales of about four million at an average $US500 each.
DoubleClick’s advice: even if your interest in the wearable genre has been piqued, don’t rush to the stores just yet.
There’s hopefully better stuff -maybe even something that’s really useful — and lower prices yet to come.