The Future of Wearable Tech

You know a class of tech is going ‘mainstream’ when C-NET and AnandTech have separate categories for it on their homepages!

‘Wearable tech’ covers a fairly broad class of devices, from the much awaited Occulus Rift to the Myo Armband to something you can actually wear – a jacket with solar panels to charge your  other wearables!

You could classify Wearables into three main categories:

  • Tracking, Measuring, Sensing Tech – Most fitness wearables fall in this category. These tend to be light, inobtrusive and last very long on a single charge. They focus on keeping track of various parameters – your activity, your sleep patterns and in some cases blood pressure and other medically relevant information. They have limited user interface, if any, preferring to transfer data collected to the cloud via a wi-fi or smartphone, so you can then view it on a variety of apps.
  • “Another screen, but smaller”, tech – Devices that (currently anyway) do about 10% of what your phone can already do, in 10% of the screen size, cannot operate independent of the phone and still need to be charged daily. Doesn’t sound very useful? Think again – due to their small form factor and very tight integration with your phone’s operating system, you can use such devices for a number of tasks – navigation, reminders, controlling your music player, and various health and fitness oriented tasks, in an unobtrusive and discrete package. Apple iWatch and various Android Gear devices are prime examples of this category.
  • Enhanced Reality – The dream of the cyberpunk sub-culture, finally starting to come about. These are wearable devices that actually have the abiility to augment and annotate your daily life by becoming part of what you see and hear as you go about your business – directions when you need them, reminders for meetings and tasks at the right time. Think Google Glasses.

A number of these devices have been around in some form or the other for over a decade now, and continue to evolve. A few trends are clearly idendifiable –

Stamina – Modern wearables enhance time between charges by reducing the power consumption of wearable devices in one important way. By avoiding connecting directly to a cell tower (which could be anything from a few hundred yards to several miles away), wearables can focus on being light and using available power for user interface and running sensors. Most wearables last for a day or more, which is quite incredible for the size of device and how much electronics they carry. Internet connectivity is via a BLE (Blueetooth Low Energy) link to a smartphone, or a Wifi connnection.

Keeping Programs and Hardware Light – Newer wearables offload the bulk of their processing to a companion smartphone or the cloud. By doing this, the requirements, both hardware and software in wearable devices are reduced, bringing down cost, size and battery consumption (see above).

Providing the most important features at the OS or Manufacturer Level – While a lot of innovation happens outside of Apple and Google, a large number of features become part of our daily lives once they are integraded into the OS on our smartphones. We tend to use Maps, Calendar, Photo Gallery, Camera – the OEM versions of these applications are used a lot more than third party equivalent apps on smartphones globally due to tight integration with the OS and with each other. This trend is expected to become stronger in wearables, where users will be reluctant to purchase a new class of device for which they are expected to find and download useful apps on their own.

Going forward, we at Riktam expect the wearable tech to move in the following directions:

1. Greater Human-Computer (Cloud?) Interface – As technology for embedding visuals, audio and even touch-sensation in our real world is becoming better and cheaper, you can expect a greater and more seamless merging of the two worlds. No more looking at your wrist to know the time – it will flash directly in your field of view.

2. A Better Way of ‘Talking’ to the wearable – we’ve all seen videos of Geoogle Now and Siri making a complete hash of what we’re trying to say to them, not to mention the obvious limitations of having to saying the commands out loud (“OK Google, Where is the nearest toilet?”). The coming about of an intuitive and private way for us to interact with computers will be a true game changer in the adoption rates for wearables.

3. Pervasive Computer Vision – future wearables will see what we see and help us interpret it usefully. When you see a familar person, your wearable will recognize the face and tell you who it is, when you go to the supermarket, it will spot the items from your shopping list and highlight them as you look around at the shelves. Computer vision is making great strides aided by the automotive industry, the casino business, social networks and a few other big spenders – the benefits will soon be available to us in the form of lower costs of acquiring and using such technology in our daily lives.

The merging of these three innovations, along with the current trends previously discussed will lead to a new age of wearables – probably supplanting a number of categories on CNET and AnandTech (who willneed a gaming console or a large screen tv anymore?).

Incidentally, if you want to try out different wearables before buying any of them, you can check them out at Riktam is a development partner for Lumoid. Riktam provides development services for iWatch and Android Gear devices – these take the form of companion apps for your main smartphone app.