Wearable gadgets: A Sci – Fi too far?

Wearable computers have been dreamt of in sci-fi films for a long time now. It seems our fascination with wrist strapped electronics and new fangled eyewear still hasn’t reached its climax. But really, in todays technological world do we need a watch that can connect to the internet to share our latest endeavours – when a mobile phone now seems to be able to do all this and more? Development of products such as wearable computers can be traced back to the early 60’s when Edward O. Thorp, and Claude Shannon built concealed devices into clothing to help them cheat at roulette. Of course cheating at a game of roulette was not the only application for wearable technology.

The 80’s stormed ahead in the technological race to put our computers on our wrists. Steve Mann designed and built a backpack-mounted 6502-based wearable multimedia computer, this allowed for graphic, text and video output. Mann went on to become a notable researcher in the field of wearable computing, in 1994 he would produce the first Wearable Wireless Webcam. Again in 1994, DARPA started the Smart Modules Program to produce wearable computers with a human like interface; products such as radios, navigation devices, communicators and more would tried to be piled into these small devices. But its remains obvious, especially to us today, that wearable computing did not ever take off. Films such as Star Wars and Star Trek showcased wearable technology at its height – both series breaking box office records, people enjoyed the new ideas and technology they proposed. But developers and scientist back in the 20th century could not establish the clear link between a successful product and science fiction garb.

Today we hope for wonder why wearable technology would even be needed anymore. The development of the ‘smart’ mobile phone has already led to a revolution in mobile communication. Devices such as Apples iPhone, iPad and Samsung’s line of smart intelligent Galaxy handhelds have left little room in the market for ‘wearable’ computers such as predicted 30 years ago. After all a new product needs a USP (unique selling point) to win over its competitors, but what advantage would a wrist strapped computer have over a fully fledged smartphone or tablet?

Yet the likes of Google, who announced last years its Glass project, seem to have taken deep interest in the wearable market. Google Glass is intended to simply be glasses you can wear everyday, all day and communicate, share and enjoy moments with other people as if their where you: “To share the would through your eyes”. But Googles latest development on Project Glass has been less than scooped up by the consumer interest. Many questions have been asked about its uses and potential niche market. Well Google itself by the sounds of does not even know where this device is intended to be used:

“to help us discover the full potential of Glass”

Google seemingly and apparent lack of knowledge of their own device is the same problem that plagued the market in the 80’s, why do I need a wrist computer? But Google is not the only one, Apple has also been rumoured to be developing a wearable computer dubbed “iWatch”. The companies practice of placing “i” in front of their products – originally an acronym for ‘internet’, a devices capability to connect to the world wide web has been taken at face value and Apple now seems to feel it should continue this line of pressurised marketing on all its line of products, even though it has become tiring. Apples foray into the wearable market would be interesting, interesting to note if the masses of marketing power and brand identity would change peoples minds on wearable computing. I think it would take a lot of hype to pull the the wool over peoples eyes to fork out for the latest

and greatest this time round. Both Google and Apples supposed devices have been playing with the idea of immediate communication and access to the internet, Google’s glasses tagged for release in the upcoming future. – but I believe it will take more than this for the big Silicon Valley companies to woo consumers, in todays world devices are nothing if they can not connect and share between each other. It is not about making a single product, but in a way like Apple has, a family of product that can communicate, share and broaden the users final experience. This is what the tech companies anddesigners need to focus on, unless they want their latest gadgets to end up as sci -fi spin offs…