Monday, 2 September 2013
internet of wearable things: are we ready for the thingiverse?
The little fitbit gizmo has got me thinking about wearable computing again. It's another vanguard of the increasingly wide 'thingiverse' a.k.a. 'Internet of things'.
My bike already talks to the internet and logs what I've been up to. My phone is sending out all manner of data as well although I still don't know what the USB socket on the dishwasher is for. "Continuous Location Data" (CLD) is a buzz phrase around the IT social networking world because of the possibilities it provides around demographics, monitoring, augmented reality and so called lifestreaming.
The challenge for the designers of the new stuff is to figure out how 'personal' they can make it as well as how small. A phone is 'quite personal' but mostly doesn't handle the really personal stuff like healthcare related monitoring.
The challenge for all of us is to decide when it's a Good Thing and when we don't want it. I suspect that this next twist is almost upon us.
It also raises the question of how to persuade people to wear the technology needed to make it all work. Fitbit kind of does this, with its range of monitoring and so do the Nike Fuel and similar bracelet systems.
Let's face it, not everyone wants to wear a plastic bracelet that looks a bit like one of those french curve things from technical drawing. Some of the early ideas like foot pods have mainly dropped by the wayside and the chest strap style Heart Rate Monitors are really for workouts and sport.
So what to do?
Along with the demise of the landline for phone calls (except to parents and freephone numbers), the wrist watch has faded from much day to day use. I still use one, but many people don't, instead referring to their phones. I still think that in business world, the art of reading someone else's watch to know the time can be almost as useful as being able to quickly read upside down.
So the space vacated by the wrist watch is being targeted for the next generation of wearable technology. Not just a calculator like the old Casio type multi function watches, and not something geeked-out with buttons, but some kind of quiet technology to provide monitoring and interaction with useful information.
But there are obvious problems with this. Style, glare, complexity, battery life, compatibility spring to mind.
For style, the challenge with is whether to go visible or not?
Some of these devices pack some bulk. Something really good about the fitbit is that it can be invisible.
Two of their three models can just slip into a pocket or hook unseen onto clothing. Proper 'quiet technology'.
As soon as the object is visibly wearable, it's enduring appearance starts to become significant again. Remember the old iPod Nano watches as an example?
They need to deal with having a full iPod Nano width as well as a holder case. An attempt, but possibly technology over style such that many wouldn't adopt it. And what about the complicated LCD watches? Fine if you needed the function, but mainly used by people running or for other specific purposes. Remember those cellphone 'gun holsters'? They didn't last long.
And those posh supplements that market expensive watches may create a reaction to both complexity and bulk. Even the newer experiments like Pebble may suffer the same 'bulk' issues.
So I'm still wondering how they are going to solve the wearable conundrum. Something so compelling that people will forgo any style issues? But then, what if they all look the same, like mini iPhones?
Or something hidden, but then the function needs to be suitably addictive? And hopefully something reliable, so we don't have another device that requires a specialist to reset. And don't get me started on ANT+, Polar, Bluetooth 4, WiFi and all the various linkups.
It's an interesting period, akin to the recent past before mobile phones became pervasive and potentially with an even faster cycle time.
Pass me the charger.