Samsung has just launched it’s Smart Gear watch, Sony has its Smart Watch 2, Pebble developed its watch via a KickStarter campaign, and Google has Glass. And pre-Apple’s upcoming event speculation is growing about an Apple Smart Watch too.
While this all looks cool and doubtless intended to impress shareholders of the respect that they are innovating (something Apple is keen to prove) the niggling question is what is the point of all this and do we really want/need them?
Since Dick Tracy first had a talking watch and subsequent Bond Films there have been many attempts to create wearable tech. From complete computers in unwieldy backpacks to the more subtle (or perhaps ridiculous?) Bluetooth headsets.
So far there have been a number of barriers to uptake: battery life; insufficient process power; size; lack of functionality, etc. Most of these issues have been overcome (though you’ll still need to charge Samsung’s watch daily) so you can now have a usable connected screen.
Minituarised and commoditised parts from smart phones now make it possible to create small devices within an affordable price point and given that tablets and smart phones are becoming more saturated it seems everyone is keen to develop the next ‘iPhone/iPad’ device that consumers will throw cash at.
Notifications, Something Else?
BBC New’s chat with a Samsung Rep clearly demonstrated that -at present- no one really knows what the device will be used for. The best suggestion seemed to be ‘subtle notifications’; but we all know that even looking at your watch briefly gets picked up in meetings so reading a text message or tapping the screen will be far from ‘subtle’. Even the apparent ‘speed advantage’ seems like a minimal gain, certainly offset by the lower quality camera.
However there is the nub of an issue here regarding notifications. Even 5 years ago the flow of information we deal with now (text messages, Facebook updates, app notifications, emails) would have seemed like living on caffeine constantly. While a smart phone and other devices both create these updates and make it somewhat manageable to deal with them the main issue is that they are on a device rather than ‘in front of you’.
It isn’t hence a big leap to then consider Google Glass as a solution, having all the notifications pop up in front of your eyes as they happen or overlaid on the landscape that you are seeing, eg. ’50p off in Starbucks’. Also the ability to process items on the go, eg. ‘delete, ignore, move, flag as urgent’ could significantly improve productivity.
Perhaps Not Quite
As mentioned to a friend a couple days ago when talking about this upcoming tech, there is also a desire to be ‘unconnected’ and ‘natural’. When I walk through a local park I may just want to walk and enjoy it rather than know my friend has updated a Facebook status or another friend is 500m away.
The interesting thing is to watch the industry develop from it’s first rather clunky prototypes (Samsung’s Gear is a big watch) and new technologies like curved screens applied so it more closely matched our natural shape. Perhaps the end result will be a discrete Bluetooth headset using bone induction to tell us about items.
Perhaps the biggest limitation to these devices isn’t really about technology at all, rather humans. We might pretend to be capable of multiple things at once but aside from fighter pilots most of us are rather distracted when just reading a text message on our phones. It may be that what we really need is a reduction in notifications!