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Wearable computing: where tech meets fashion

By Daniel Cawrey / June 3, 2013


The hype and hyperbole that arrived with the limited release of Google Glass is beginning to wane. In its place are the current realities of wearable computing: short battery life, voice recognition glitches and potential privacy issues. The idea is an ambitious start, but does Google Glass really fill a need? Do we want computers attached to our body?

What’s wrong with smartphones?

Google’s Android operating system now accounts for 75% of the smartphone market. Inserting that same OS into wearable technology was the company’s inevitable next step. But what does Glass do that phones don’t? Google is pushing the idea that Glass offers a more holistic experience, enabling users to interact with their surroundings with even more freedom than a smartphone. But that can also be one of its problems. It’s obvious when someone is using their phone to take a picture or make a call. With Glass, it can be hard to tell if a person is using it or not, which can lead to privacy concerns.

Devices from head to toe

Google has Glass, but other companies are betting that consumers will prefer to wear their tech somewhere less obvious. There has been buzz about Apple’s rumored iWatch, a compromise between a phone and a fashion statement. Pebble, a project that was funded through Kickstarter, also points to greater interest in wristwear. For $150, you can have a watch that provides apps and information traditionally found on your phone, without having to fumble through your pockets or purse.

Glasses and watches aren’t the only concepts out there. The Jawbone Up is a handy and fashionable little bracelet that measures the wearer’s daily physical activity. It comes in a variety of colors that allows you to keep your style intact while letting you know when you’ve been slacking on your exercise through subtle vibrations.

And for those who don’t want to wear their technology on their sleeve, there are inconspicuous fitness trackers like the new Nike+ smart shoes and the FitBit One. Nike’s state-of-the-art sneakers use four sensors in their soles to measure how far you run, how high you jump, how fast you accelerate and how hard you’re working, all in real time and all without any cumbersome straps or clips.

The FitBit One is a great option for those who want to keep track of their daily activity discretely. This tiny sensor can count your steps and calories from a pocket or nearby purse while sharing the information with your phone or computer through a Bluetooth connection. And at night, the FitBit One goes from counting your steps to helping you count sheep by tracking your sleeping patterns.

Smart notifications

It’s interesting to note that both Google Glass and smart watches like Pebble really only serve as notification conduits for smartphones. As it stands, both products rely on a smartphone OS to power the raw computing power needed to do things like make calls. While they are great complementary devices, they really don’t work very well as standalone products.

Bottom line

Whether it’s a pair of glasses, a watch or a bracelet, these products are destined to flood the market. Early adopters are going to try them and the market will dictate which ones sink or swim. What’s important to keep in mind is how these devices relate smartphones and tablets. Right now, they are accessories, and are the vast majority of consumers willing to pay upwards of $150 for a companion device? Like Google Glass, that answer is still in the works.