The (Non?) Case For Wearables

It is often difficult to determine in advance which new products or services will catch on, versus which ones are just temporary flashes in the pan.

Some of the fog can be dispelled by determining if the new product or service actually serves a practical long term purpose in the real world.

The desktop computer caught on because it rolled a large number of existing useful functions such as document creation, accounting functions, etc. into a single, networkable device.

As laptop versions of computers became more powerful, laptop sales outpaced desktop sales. Laptops were more portable and just as capable for most uses.

Mobile devices have caught on because they take the most useful bits and bobs of computer networking functionality and put them into an easily pocketable form factor. The very best mobile apps actually perform specific tasks more quickly and conveniently than could be done using a full-blown computer. For example, a well-designed mobile banking app significantly decreases the time it takes to perform everyday banking tasks as contrasted to the time it would take the same person to log on to the bank’s website to accomplish the same tasks.

Do wearable computing devices make any existing networked computing tasks easier and/or more convenient? Using the mobile banking example, a mobile banking app on a wearable wrist computer would have to make it significantly faster to perform basic banking tasks than could be accomplished with the attached smartphone. Interacting with a one inch screen offers extremely limited functional opportunity or efficiency. Talking in to a wrist computer to accomplish banking tasks is not practical in the real world.

There are a number of uses for devices that contain differing types of sensors and recording capabilities. Many of these types of devices inevitably end up unused and forgotten once the novelty wears off, which could indicate the potential for fading fad popularity.

Wrist notifications are cited as a potential use. These notifications could be advantageous for certain people in certain types of circumstances. However, they could also prove to be dangerously distracting, say for example while driving. Interacting with mobile devices while driving is a very real traffic fatality problem, and a wrist notification for many people could prove to be an irresistible temptation.

The people who are constantly texting (the mobile equivalent of Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger from yesteryear) will not be typing on a one-inch screen – it is just too small. The alternative to use voice-to-text is not practical. If you think people yelling into cell phones in public is a problem, just imagine those same people yelling text messages into their wrist computing device!

Will it be possible for developers to take significant bits and bobs of existing networked computing functions and concentrate them into a wrist form that is faster and more efficient to interact with than the smart phone they are tethered to? If not, the future for wearable computing devices is in serious doubt.

ReSound LiNX Hearing Aid at The Gadget Show

Danish firm ReSound launched their iPhone-connected hearing aid, LiNX, at the Gadget Show. The world’s first “Made for iPhone” hearing aid uses both the technology and usability features of the Apple iPhone to bring hearing aids to a generation of users who expect more from their technology than the current generation of aids.

The hearing aid itself is discrete and fits neatly over the ear and pairs with the iPhone much like any other Bluetooth headset.

ReSound LiNXReSound LiNX In-Ear

Once this is done, the benefits of having a smartphone-connected hearing aid become apparent. Starting with the obvious, phone calls can be re-directed from the phone to hearing aid, again just like a Bluetooth headset. Similarly, audio from music and video apps will play through the hearing aid, giving the wearing a much better experience than they’re used to.

Moving on, an iPhone (or iPad) app lets the amplification level be adjusted from the iPhone without fiddling around the ear. Who thinks anything of anyone using their smartphone in a public place now? The frequency response can be adjusted too, suiting both the wearer and the environment that they find themselves in, whether at in the quiet at home or a noisy restaurant. Background noise can be filtered out and speech enhanced.

ReSound LiNX

This is where it starts to get really clever. By using GPS and geo-fencing to locate the user, previously saved settings can be automatically selected based on location. For example, if the wearer frequently goes to a local bar, the GPS location and hearing aid settings are saved so that the next time the wearer goes to the bar, the settings are reused.

ReSound LiNX app

David from GN ReSound takes me through the features of the ReSound LiNX in more detail. After the interview I had an “ears-on” trial of the LiNX and it was impressive with a well-designed app. I’m not hearing-impaired so can’t comment on the audio enhancing features, but I could hear the effects of the different frequency responses.

SunnyCam Video Recording Eyewear at The Gadget Show

SunnyCam EyewearGoogle Glass might be du jour at the moment, but it’s expensive, unfashionable and of questionable benefit. Undoubtedly, it’ll get cheaper, less obtrusive and have more uses, but until then SunnyCam‘s HD video recording eyewear might be of more practical use. Simply, these are glasses with a tiny video camera in the bridge that cost only GB£100.

The SunnyCam is very much in the style of sports sunglasses. Although you can’t see it in the photos, the camera is in the glasses bridge and records at 720p to a microSD card, making it very suitable for PoV recording when it’s important to see what the wearer is seeing. The lens are easily swapped out for other tints as needed.

SunnyCam ControlsThe controls and storage are on the legs of the glasses and with only two buttons, are easy to use. Battery life is around 2.5 to 3 hours.

Ben takes me through the SunnyCam at The Gadget Show and its use in several real-life scenarios.

 

Fitbit Activity Tracking at The Gadget Show

Fitbit is well-known in the activity tracking space with their diminutive gadgets which monitor the wearer’s every move and snooze. It’s a busy space, with competitors hot on their heels, Fitbit has been expanding its portfolio with new colours, swappable wrist bands, wireless syncing with more devices and pre-installing its app on new smartphones. I chat with Peter from Fitbit about the company’s recent activity and the direction of travel for activity watchers.

Fitbit Range