In the past several months tech blogs have been speculating that Apple, Microsoft, Google and a few other tech giants are looking at releasing a high tech watch. Now, this has been attempted somewhat in the past with the Timex Datalink. Basically a wrist watch with a very small keyboard built into it which nerds loved to wear and claimed that they can do magical things with it. Since then, things have changed. Technology has advanced to the point that we all carry a mini computer with us and components have gotten smaller and smaller. That said, is it really worth even looking into something like this. Lets dissect this shall we.
I’ve focused primarily on a wrist type device (like a watch) in the opening paragraph, but wearable tech is not limited to only being worn on your wrist. As Google has show with its release of Google Glass, there is a market for a wearable computer. Some have taken things even further and embedded microchips into their bodies. Whether a computer posing as a pair of sunglasses is the future or perhaps putting computer components into our bodies is, our fascination with integrating technology further into our lives continues.
A “smart watch” (as many have come to label it) may be the next thing all the three tech giants are looking at, if reports that have spread around the internet have any truth to them, but is it feasible? A device siting on our wrist may be convenient but will it be practical. Samsung has recently taken motion gestures to a whole new level by integrating it into the Galaxy S4, but that device is about 5x larger then your typical watch and sports two front facing camera’s. Those camera’s are what give the S4 the gestures we’ve all seen in their ads.
Sticking camera’s into a smart watch will make it bulky. Not only that but you’d need to find a way to also project not only a virtual keyboard but a larger viewable display. Unless the wrist device was to require pairing with say your smartphone, at which point, what is the point? Screen sizing is getting bigger and bigger on smartphones, it would defeat the trend and customer desire if companies shrunk everything down now. Holographic projectioning isn’t anything new, but the current technology it takes to make it happen and make it usable is still at least a decade away.
The biggest roadblock though, is not the lack of a keyboard, a small display or even say connectivity, but battery life. My iPhone 5 (which I do love) has a horrible battery. I’ve been debating picking up a Mophie Juice Pack (sacrificing size, elegance and portability) specifically because it sucks. Samsung still offers a swappable battery on the S4 but even BlackBerry recently has gone away with that in the Z10. The reason? It takes up space. The battery design currently is inefficient. That’s why the iPhone and Z10 don’t offer it. Unfortunately battery tech has not changed in the better part of the last decade, or longer, and until it does our wrist devices (if one actually comes out) will last us most likely no more then 3 hours. That or it will be a very underpowered and essentially useless in my opinion.
To Google, Apple and Microsoft … put your investment dollars (and ego’s) aside and get together to build us a more efficient, lower profile battery which can help the industry.
Until now I’ve avoided writing anything about Google Glass simply because I don’t know much about it. I’ve read many reviews/reports and I have seen all of the photo’s people have been posting online. The device itself is decent considering what its intent is. Which pegs the question, what is its purpose? To be super creepy or nerdy? Or does Google have something else in mind for it?
Those of us who grew up as kids in the early and mid-90′s remember RoboCop. The officer who got really messed up and ended up part human part machine. (Basically Darth Vader but more closer to reality.) As a kid, I always wanted his HUD (heads up display). He could pull up information about people, weapons, schematics for a building on the fly. I feel like this is what Google Glass might become in the near future. Its purpose for now is still undetermined. Developers are doing what ever they can with it. Exploring and pushing the technology to its limits. Last week we heard of the first release of a porn app! Mind you it was pulled as quickly as it went up, but peoples creativity never ceases to amaze. Google wants its public developers to basically show Google what can be done with it. Not a bad way to get some free ideas.
Another point I need to make here. You know that the US Military has had something like Google Glass in the works for the past 10 years, right? It’s not public knowledge but you don’t think that they dump billions into RND and come up with nothing. The first iteration was a simple camera attached to a “peaking scope”. Basically a camera was attached to an assault rifle which would allow a soldier to morph the weapon around a 90 degree corner, letting him/her see if a threat was present and ultimately take them out with the attached 9mm hand gun. More recently I’ve been informed that they’ve developed a HUD which allows field soldiers to get up-to-the-second terrain data, including thermal imagery from satellites orbiting in space. Sound like something from Tom Clancy’s Ghost games? That’s because it is.
Google Glass may be currently on the market for consumers, but don’t be too surprised if ultimately it ends up in the service of your local Police or the Military. After all, who better would utilize such a device. The guy across the street looking up pictures of a cute girl on the street or a Police officer who can easily identify through customize software a crook. I’d bet we’d all be more understanding if the Police had such tech then the average citizen.
Privacy and all set aside, Google Glass has the potential to really succeed, if it targets the right demographic. I personally wouldn’t want someone random on the streets being able to pull up data on me by simple facial recognition. That creeps me out more then anything. If Glass can be utilized to protect or perhaps enhance certain jobs (construction engineers, doctors, underground workers) then it has a place in our world. It will sell, maybe not initially (not for $1500 a pop with limited apps) but it definitely has a better future then a smart watch.
This may seem like something from a sic-fi show and I don’t blame you if you do. Embedding circuitry into ones body is. However, it is being done today on some level. Doctors are putting pieces of tech into people with certain limitations, say hearing or perhaps in the near future even sight. That’s not to say though that its only purpose can be limited to medical advancements. I saw part of a documentary years ago about a engineer who placed chips into his wrists and programmed his office (doors, computer and such) to identify him and do simple tasks such as unlocking/opening the door and logging into his computer. When the Pay Pass by Esso came onto the market (initially in Europe about 4 years before North America) the next thing people thought would happen was such a device being implanted into our bodies. Allowing us to travel with ease but, as many thought, allowing the government to keep track of its citizens.
Where and how far we as humans may take our integration of technology and our bodies to, it is always a fascination of us geeks and nerds to dream up things that don’t currently exist. Tom Clancy wrote a series of teen novels which depicted a future where people would integrate into the internet by sitting in a seat and having a neural link woosh them into the web. Similar to basically The Matrix but without the hole in the back of our heads. (He depicted it as neural links implanted into our brains at child birth, less displeasing and visible.) On the other extreme, Star Trek had come up with The Borg. Organics fused with technology to the cellular level. The future will inevitably have technology and people integrate into one. How far we will go, is up to our moral standards to guide us.
All-in-all it is with some displeasure that I have to admit technology is surpassing our needs and more importantly our reliance on it. Will a smart watch be necessary, no. Will it be created, it already has been. Does Google Glass have a future? Certainly, but I don’t like where it may end up. Companies and engineers will always come up with ways to “make our lives easier”, that is the beauty in technology, it is always improving to make things easier. Whether it be a smart watch, sunglasses with a display or a chip which would allow us to control all our gadgets, it won’t stop coming.
With WWDC 2013 hours away, we may see a glimpse into a potential new product or at the very least, the foundation for one. I guess what I can only offer is this … wait and see. A little speculation and mystery is always fun.
Until next time …
For those interested in checking out a currently available smart watch, head on over to Sony’s website and take a look at what they’ve come up with.