Wearables: Donning the latest technology
OK Glass: What's it look like?
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell where science fiction ends and our modern life begins. Such is the case with the latest technology trend — wearables. That’s the name techies invented to describe Google Glass and other technological devices that we don.
When computers were first invented they each had an entire air conditioned room dedicated to them. Then in the 1980s, IBM developed the PC and the computer left the office and moved into our homes. As scientific advances occurred our tech gadgets have continually shrunk in size, while their computing power has grown.
Apple’s recent introduction of the iPhone and iPad significantly changed the computer landscape and our culture. But change is constant when it comes to technology. Today our computers are packaged in mobile smartphones and tablets; tomorrow mobile devices will no longer be in our pocket or purse. They'll be attached to our bodies and in our field of view.
Google Glass is one such device.
So far, Glass has been a hit with an exclusive test market. In early 2004, Google sold 2,000 of the new $1,500 devices to software developers. Another 8,000 were purchased by people Google selected by culling through submissions of what individuals planned to do with the new product. (Glass is expected to be available to the general public in 2014.)
Forbes predicts Google Glass signals the launch of “what will no doubt be a multi-billion dollar wearable computing market.”
Wearables throughout history
Google Glass is the latest in a long line of wearable technology.
In 1286, the first eyeglasses were made in Italy. However, other historians say eyeglasses originated in India. And there’s even evidence that trace the roots of spectacles back to the 5th century BC, when ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs discussed magnification. There’s no debate that bifocals were invented in 1784 by American statesman and inventor, Ben Franklin, who was both nearsighted and farsighted. Tired of switching between two specs, Franklin developed a way to fit two types of lenses into one set of eyeglasses.
The first wristwatch was created in 1868 for a Hungarian countess. In 1880, 2,000 wristwatches were issued to German naval officers. It was the first time men wore wristwatches; until then watches were worn exclusively by women. Wristwatches appeared front and center during World War I. This new age of war required tactical precision. A pocket watch could provide the same reading as a wristwatch, but this new device freed a military man’s hands.
If you ask Google Glass who invented the first wearable computer, it probably would locate information about Edward Thorp and Claude Shannon. In the early 1960s, they programmed a cigarette- pack sized analog computer to predict the outcome of a roulette wheel. They wore their invention in a Vegas casino and increased their winnings by 44%.
In 1977, Hewlett-Packard released a calculator watch. It had calculator keys and other buttons on the watch face that allowed the user to do arithmetic calculations and set the date and time. When the novelty wore off the public associated these watches with nerds.
The Walkman, a wearable cassette player, was introduced by Sony in 1979. This precursor to the iPod consisted of headphones and a cassette player that the user slipped over his belt. The unit was bulky by today’s standards, but it changed music listening habits by allowing individuals to play their music anywhere.
Seems like you’re viewing a 25-inch screen using Glass
If you haven’t seen someone on the street wearing Google Glass, it looks like a futuristic pair of sunglasses, without the lenses. On the wearer’s right, attached to metal frames, there’s a tiny computer with a small plastic cube-shaped screen positioned just above the eye. When the wearer looks up at the screen the clear cube lights up.
In that cube Glass owners can view Google search, read a tweet or text message, or consult a Google Map showing their current route. Although the screen is tiny the image is high-definition and Google says it gives the illusion you’re watching a 25-inch screen from eight feet away.
The gadget also contains a 5-megapixel camera, which can take both snapshots and videos. To activate the computer, the wearer uses voice commands or swipes the right side of the frame.
The Google engineers intentionally designed the device so the user has to look up at it, rather than position the mini-screen where it would constantly be in one’s view.
“In a world where we’re already peering at screens all day long, pecked at by alerts, the prospect of an eyeball computer can provoke a shudder,” commented technology writer Clive Thompson in a New York Times Magazine piece.
Thompson, who used Glass for several months, said he easily adjusted to the new device and soon was “glancing up to start texting and e-mailing… (or to) set up calendar reminders that dinged in my ear.” He also used a Glass app to help him locate his car in a parking lot.
The journalist envisioned using his Google Glass “as a next-level brain supplement, accessing brilliant trivia during conversations, making myself seem omniscient (or insufferable, or both).”
However, he found his children were more entertained by his new “glasses” then his colleagues. “My peers gently mocked me when I wore Glass. Teenagers on the subway, in contrast, cooed, and I got several cries of ‘Awesome!’ on the street,” Thompson explained. And his elementary aged children constantly asked him, “Do your glasses know the answer?”
Smartwatch boom underway
The most recent advancement in the wearable arena are smartwatches. Many of them were launched in the fourth quarter of 2013 and they were a rage at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held this January.
Independent technology site Gizmag, which states "our opinions are not for sale,” ranks the smartphone leaders as: Martian, Pebble, Samsung’s Galaxy Gear Sony’s SmartWatch 2 and Qualcomm’s Toq. All are compatible with Android smartphones. Only Pebble is 100% compatible with iPhone. Martin handles some iPhone notifications. Of these brands only Martin does not handle fitness tracking.
These and other brands of smartphones allow you to receive and transmit text, data, images and audio files. Most come with customizable home screens that let you chose different clock faces or other information, like current weather conditions. Some have a voice interface.
Newcomer Pebble is the current industry leader, according to several tech sites.(See image above.) “Pebble is now the most well-rounded smartwatch available,” said PCMag.com upon awarding the device its Editor’s Choice accolade.
PCMag, Gizmag and others gave Pebble high marks in the following categories: readability in all light conditions, its growing collection of third-party apps and the device's good battery life.
Mercedes also endorsed Pebble by choosing it as their wearable tech system. When outside the car, the smartwatch’s display tells the wearer where the car is, whether the doors are locked and if it needs fuel. Inside the car it alerts the driver to potential hazards coming up on the road and makes it easier to control the audio system. NOTE: Samsung’s smartwatch does the same with BMWs.
The industry is waiting for Apple and and Google to unveil their smartwatches. That’s when the growing niche will really expand, insiders say,
Smartwatches here, there and...
Nike already has a wearable watch-like device that tracks the user's fitness — calculating distance run, calories burned, etc. Similar products are available from Fitbit and other companies. In the past, Apple engineers have designed wearable fitness tracking devices, but the company scrapped the idea and never produced them.
Currently, the largest chunk of technologies on smartwatches include health and workout trackers. Many people anticipate Apple’s iWatch will incorporate special apps for fitness buffs, or a flexible glass screen and/or state-of-the art security. Apple has a team of 100 people working on the project and it's filed 79 patents related to wearable technology.
Unlike the years when Steve Jobs ran the company, Apple is trailing its competitors at the starting gate. Insiders say Apple is not expected to reveal its iWatch until later this year. .Everyone is looking at Apple to produce a killer device in this field, the first new product under Tim Cook’s leadership.
"So, while Apple would not be the first, it could be the first to make it at the top of (the) 'must-have' list," reports Darcy Travlos in Forbes. "Apple has done this historically by integrating more functionality... and leveraging its ability to market new products."
What's the future of wearables?
Glass to have major impact on the healthcare profession
Meanwhile, Google has received positive feedback on Glass from people in various demographic groups and occupations. “Commercial possibilities,” Scientific America says, “include enhanced vision systems for use in manufacturing, engineering, healthcare and other industries.”
Experts predict far-reaching applications for Glass in the healthcare profession. Case in point, one Ohio State University surgeon used his Glass to beam video of a surgical repair of a knee ligament, allowing “medical students to watch the surgery from his particular point of view,” reported Popular Science. “Seeing a live feed of a surgery from the surgeon's perspective seems a whole lot more useful to a medical student than observing in-person, where much of the nitty-gritty of the procedure is obscured by people” in the operating room, the magazine noted.
In addition to being a unique teaching tool, the doctor’s Google Glass could display a patient’s vital information and X-rays during the operation. During a critical point in the medical procedure the surgeon could consult with a colleague, via live webcam.
Since their dawn, computers have continually increased in power while shrinking in size.
“A typical smartphone has more computing power than Apollo 11 when it landed a man on the moon.” –Time Magazine
Currently, Google is the only company that has produced smartglasses. This will change as competitors soon enter the market. “There’ll be no shortage of smartglass systems in as little as one to two years,” Scientific America predicts. “There could be as many as 10 million smartglasses sold worldwide by 2016,” adds the magazine.
The design of smartglasses is certain to change from company to company. One corporation is developing a pair of smartglasses with screens for both eyes. These prototypes, which resemble conventional sunglasses, will allow the user to see a wider field, larger size and even view things in 3-D.
“The furor about wearable technologies, particularly smart watches and smart glasses is unsurprising,” says Josh Flood, senior analyst at ABI Research, a technology market intelligence company.
The applications for these two technologies are very intriguing both now and in the future. –TDowling
© 2013 Thomas Dowling