Battle for the Body: The Future of the Connected Watch, Ring and Wristband
October 07, 2013
"I want the entire internet on my wrist," the Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak told Wired in a recent interview. He was talking about what could be one of the next big wearable device form factors - the smartwatch.
The recent slew of wearables making their way onto the market has been significant. From health, fitness and lifestyle gadgets such as Nike's Fuelband and the Jawbone UP band, to Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which was unveiled last month.
But we’ve been here before. Who remembers Bill Gates launching Microsoft's Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) smartwatch back in 2004? Arguably ahead of its time, SPOT lasted four years before being axed. Not to mention the countless other gadgets that promised great things, but ultimately ended up gathering dust in the bottom draw.
The good news is that things have changed since then, and the recent collision of connectivity and innovation is delivering real-life advancements that were previously the stuff of science fiction. That potent mix of “right time, right tech”, could mean that that we are entering a new phase of opportunity for the manufacturers and consumers of the connected, wearable gadget.
Consumer appetite for all things tech has never been greater. And the advancements in technology and connectivity are finally starting to match expectations, with superfast 4G networks delivering speeds comparable to – and often greater than - home broadband.
And that means that the connected accessory may once again have found its moment in the spotlight – and a consumer hunger that means that this time it may be sustainable.
So who are the big names making waves in this area?
As mentioned above, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Gear smartwatch at the beginning of September. It's not a truly independent device yet, as it works as a companion to the Galaxy smartphones. The watch connects via Bluetooth and can make calls, take photos & video and display messages.
At the same time chip-manufacturer Qualcomm launched its Toq smartwach. Again this isn't a standalone smartphone in a watch device. It connects to the user's existing smartphone and currently only works with Android.
There is also the Kickstarter-funded start-up Pebble that launched its smartwatch this summer, connecting to the user's existing Android or iOS smartphone via Bluetooth and coming with some pre-installed apps.
Beyond the watch itself, companies like Thalmic Labs are creating exceedingly interesting devices that use electrical impulses and muscle movements to allow you to control the connected devices around you without having to touch them – be that your mobile, tablet, PC, TV, or even your kids’ remote control helicopter.
Lurking in the wings, of course, is the not insignificant presence of Apple and Google, both of whom are strongly rumoured to be developing their own wearable devices such as Project Glass and the ‘iWatch’.
But the success of this form factor will be cracking the killer functionality that will make them a must-have indispensable device. And that functionality will only come through connectivity.
As designs evolve I expect to see the emergence of smartwatches with more standalone computing and in-built connectivity, as well as integration with a range of smartphone and tablet devices.
And as the connectivity and accessibility markets evolve, with all-pervasive superfast network innovations moving hand-in-hand with the proliferation of multi-device sharer tariffs, the potential of wearable technology becomes ever more interesting.
While companies will continue to innovate and out-innovate in the bid to find the next killer hardware that builds on the central role that connectivity, ultimately it will be the consumer who decides what succeeds and what fails - and that will be down to what is of true benefit to their lives in the 21st century.
What is clear is that consumers now expect to be able to switch their digital life seamlessly between devices. That means the smartwatch, smartbroach or smartring may yet have a role to play in this ecosystem - and connectivity will be at its heart.