There was once a time when powerful computers were found only in large companies, tablets were in the possession of travelling businessmen, and cell phones were for emergencies only. Slowly, computers became a tool for education and word processing, and found their way into homes. Tablets became excellent e-readers, and slowly expanded to being all around entertainment items. Cell phones, arguably the most successful device, found their way into the hands of consumers by blending communication with entertainment and information. These three devices are currently dominating the consumer markets all over the world, in every age group. Now comes more personal everyday computing in wearable form … the smartwatch.
Today, if one were to think of all the devices they have, they might be overwhelmed. A computer, a cell phone, maybe a tablet. Cameras, watches, MP3 players, and GPS navigators are all modern technology that average people possess. These things are certainly a luxury, but is device overload setting in? Do consumers actually enjoy the large amount of devices that they carry every day? Or would they rather sacrifice functionality for portability and convenience? These questions have yet to be answered.
Similar questions surfaced during the smartphone revolution, when cell phones were combined with computing devices. Just seeing a website displayed on their mobile device freaked some people out. Some were afraid to break the mold and use their cell phone for a little more than making calls and sending texts. With markets full of games and useful applications for literally every aspect of daily life, cell phones destroyed the need for dedicated MP3 players and GPS navigators.
The ability to send emails, stream videos, and find information without being next to a computer is a remarkable feat that smartphones have accomplished. Some users have completely replaced their home computers with a powerful smartphone. Productivity on the go has increased significantly since their release, which is definitely a step forward for society.
When smartphones were first gaining popularity, the major concerns were how they distracted individuals. Teenagers wouldn’t pay attention at the dinner table, or behind the wheel. Some expressed that cell phones took away the intimacy of speaking to people face to face. Many of these issues still persist, but the benefits have certainly outweighed the negatives. Some may argue that cell phones already do everything and no other device is needed. However, the big names in mobile technology are back to the drawing board, seeing how they can innovate the mobile market and sell more units.
Rumors are swirling that Apple, Samsung, and Google all have planned announcements for smartwatches. While there are already smartwatches on the market, the big three will look to expand on the concept and innovate the design until consumers notice. At this point, the smartwatch market is very slim, and will need a lot of work to bring them into mainstream consumer markets. One may say that the wearable technology craze is getting out of hand, and others embrace the thought of everyday accessories being connected to the internet and supplying information.
Google has already made a splash in the previous months with the announcement of Glass, eyewear that adds a HUD (Heads-up Display) in the top corner of the user’s vision. The Glass project has come under a lot of criticism lately for privacy reasons, and smartwatches may follow the same path. On one hand, the ability to have a watch, cell phone, MP3 player, internet browser, GPS navigator, and app-enabled device strapped to the wrist is an amazing concept. However, there are some downsides to this. GPS-enabled means that your movements may be tracked at all times, and may strip the user of privacy. Also, having a cell phone built into your watch means no more missed calls from the spouse or boss.
The form factor in this device would allow for innovation. Instead of just using your watch for checking the time, you could actually see any appointments or outstanding tasks right on the face of the watch. Also, the watch could monitor heart rate and display medical information, as well as exercise times and calories burned. Music could be playing in the background, and the watch would inform you of a call or a text message.
While all of these features sound appealing, many of the concepts have been covered in the past. Current smartphones have built-in GPS navigators, MP3 players, internet browsers, and most of the other features that smartwatches would offer. For smartwatches to break out in the consumer market, manufacturers are going to have to really innovate the concept, and offer their design at a low price. When the sixth-generation iPod nano was released, one major feature was the ability to wear it on a watch band. While this offered a unique experience for some, others found it to be too “gimmicky” and not very appealing to the eyes.
For the new wave of smartwatches, designers will have to make the device appealing. A modern design that is not too flashy or out of the ordinary. A large target audience will be the community that already wears a watch, and wants to upgrade. If the new design is too different, some people may not want to change from their ways, as some found the iPod nano watch to be bulky and unpleasant.
As far as the technology goes, smartwatches will have to stand out against the competing devices. Developers need to make the device more than just a small smartphone. A brand new OS will need to be developed to make the most of a small screen that the smartwatch will feature. A front-facing camera would be useful for video calls, and a microphone would be necessary for phone calls and voice commands.
One major question that needs to be asked is: What will smartwatches make of society? With everyone having infinite knowledge strapped to their wrists, how powerful will traditional knowledge become? If smartwatches are cheap and sleek enough, there is a great chance that many people will purchase them. With everyone owning a smartwatch, will humans fall into a hive mind mentality? While the chances of the human race being turned into the Borg is very slim, smartwatches could change many aspects of daily life. While we do not currently know what the consequences of these products will be, we will surely find out as developers begin announcing their concepts. Resistance is futile …
Jon is the Editor-In-Chief at Wear Guide and writes about wearable technology On Your Arm. Jon has a M.S. in Computer Science, won several intercollegiate events as a member of the UCLA Cycling Team, and is currently active on the USA Triathlon circuit which provides him the opportunity to field-test wearables under grueling conditions. Jon also writes for our sister publication Electric.guide.
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