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.

Wearables Come To SXSW

SXSWAt times it feels like SXSW has become a mini-CES, with all the hot innovations popping up. Wearables combined with health and well-being are definitely where it’s at and this year Philips are hosting a Dragon’s Den-style Digital Innovation Challenge, with three companies pitching their tech for a week’s advice and guidance at Philip’s High Tech Campus in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

First up are Atlas Wearables, pitching their fitness tracker for the serious workout enthusiast. The Atlas “measures your heart rate, calculates the calories you burned and tracks your body on the x-, y- and z-axes, so it knows how many laps you swam and if you did push-ups or triangle push-ups. It’s preloaded with the most popular exercises and can learn new exercises you teach it so you can instantly see your progress, analyze your form, anticipate plateaus and find what makes you stronger, faster.” Definitely for the hardcore fitness fanatic.

Incomparable Things is very much softer – they’re building an app to bring together the myriad of data sources – “In our app, people scrapbook the stories of their adventures. We collect all the media people already create when they’re being active – from photos to location data, NikeFuel to tweets – and weave them together to tell visual, personal and complete stories that others can collect and aspire to. They are more memorable than a photo album and more inspiring than an activity data score. It is used by everyone from daily walkers to training triathletes, neighborhood arborists to polar expeditionists.” Sounds a bit like Field Trip meets Pose! I love the idea of these apps but I simply don’t have the time to curate the photos and tweets.

Finally, Push is back to circuits and training with another fitness tracker that seems very similar to the Atlas one. “Rugged and durable, PUSH straps comfortably to your arm. It communicates with your phone, transmitting movement feedback that’s too fast for the human eye to capture. The data is displayed on the PUSH App, providing you with crucial, scientifically-validated metrics about each and every rep, helping you optimize your training.” It’s kind of symptomatic of the space that there’s going to very similar devices competing for attention. Push’s USP is that it can measure strength, not simply calories burned.

If you want to see these three companies pitch, you need to get yourself round to the Next Stage in the Convention Centre at 12.30 CDT today.