Watches? Give me a Hearing Aid that knows when to psst… in my ear

iWatch Concept Devices

Speculation is still rife on the nature of Apple’s upcoming iWatch device, the latest of which was speculation of a $1000 price tag or a positioning against Rolex. If it is, I may need quite a bit of advance warning before Jane sends me to collect hers (if indeed Apple release such a device).

Probably the best overview of the watch industry i’ve heard was a Cubed Podcast featuring¬†Bill Geiser, the CEO of MetaWatch, but who previously did work for Fossil and before that for Sony on their email capable watch ranges. If you have a spare hour in a car or train journey, it’s well worth the listen; it’s Episode 11 of the Cubed Podcast, downloadable from iTunes or listen here.

One of the statistics Bill cites is that the watch market is worth circa $1.2Billion per annum, with 85% of this revenue attributable to watches costing more than $500. He is also at pains to point out that they are a very visible fashion accessory, have many variations and focus on doing just one thing well – which is telling the time. A lot of forays into putting more intelligence into them in the past have failed to make a large impact.

Since the time of that Podcast, Pebble have come out with the second iteration of their popular watch (known as the “Pebble Steel“, Samsung have sprung out two attempts at their Samsung Gear, and Motorola (who are in the middle of transitioning ownership from Google to Lenovo) have “pre-announced” their Moto-360 concept device.

The Motorola concept looks impressive (the core competence of high technology companies is normally far removed from consumer-attractive fashionable design). A few samples are as follows (you’ll need to click on these images to blow them up to full size in order to see them animate properly – or alternatively, see all the related demos at https://moto360.motorola.com/):

Moto 360 Speed Reading

 

Moto 360 Set Alarm

The only gotcha is that space constraints usually kill the size of battery you can install in these devices, and the power required to drive the display and supporting electronics – while doing any of these applications – will empty their capacity in minutes. The acceptable norm would be at least a working day. As someone whos found their phone running out of power while trying to navigate myself around unfamiliar streets in Central and West London, this is something of a show stopper. And these Moto 360 concepts appear to be destined for science fiction only, as modern day physics will stop these becoming a reality – yet.

So, at face value, we may need new display technologies, and/or new batteries, and/or moving as much as possible away from the wrist and into powered packaging elsewhere on a person. I’m not sure if you can cast the display (like a TV using Google Chromecast, or using Apple Airplay) over low power Bluetooth, or if there are other charging mechanisms that could feed a decent display using the movement of the user, or daylight.

It’ll be interesting to see what Apple come to market with, but we may all have it wrong and find their device is a set of health sensors coupled with a simple notifications system.

While technologists may think a watch spewing the already compelling “Google Now” type notifications would be impressive, many should be reminded that looking at your watch in a meeting is often a social no-no. It’s a sign that the person doing so is disinterested in the subject of conversation and is keen to move on.

Likewise for the current generation of Google Glass, the devices look dorky and social norms around the presence of sound/picture/video recording have yet to be widely established. Sticking the glasses on top of your head is the one norm if you’re using public conveniences, but usage isn’t wide enough outside San Francisco and various tech conferences yet. And the screen real estate still too small to carry much data.

My Nexus 5 handset has one colour LED on the front that blinks White if i’ve received an email, Blue for a Facebook update, Yellow for a Snapchat and Green for an SMS. Even a service like IFTTT (“If this then that”) sitting in front of a notifications system could give a richer experience to help prioritise what is allowed to interrupt me, or what notifications get stored for review later.

Personally, i’d prefer an intelligent hearing aid type device that could slip the “psst…” into my ear at appropriate times. That would me much more useful to me in meetings and while on the move.

In the interim, the coming wave of intelligent, mobile connected electronics have yet to get evenly distributed across a very, very wide range of fashion accessories of all kinds. From the sound of Google’s work, it sounds like they are aiming at a large number of fashion OEMs – folks primarily fashion providers but who can embed licensed electronics that talk to the hub that is an Internet connected smartphone. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple’s approach will be similar, but allowing such devices to hook into Apple provided app platforms than sit on an iPhone (such as the widely expected HealthBook).

We’ll hopefully have all the answers – and the emergent ecosystems running at full clip – this side of Christmas 2014. Or at last have a good steer following Apple’s WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) and Google I/O (the Google equivalent) before mid-year, when developers should be let loose getting their software ready for these new (or at least, class of these new) devices.

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