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Wearable Tech

Wearable Tech

Wearable Tech
November 19
12:01 2015

by Sergey Grankin, Co-host of the Pacific Northwest LGBT Radio Talk Show, OUTSpoken

2015 is the year of technology, just like 2014, 2013, 2012, and every year before that so it’s no secret that technology keeps evolving to unbelievable levels. Ten years ago we were barely learning the ins and outs of SMS text messaging, now we’re able to make purchases just by scanning our finger on our phones. We’ve imagined, created and developed a phone that isn’t really a phone anymore. What was once a device solely used to make phone calls outside of your home is now a computing machine with processing powers far higher than we could have imagined. We have in our hands, or more often in our pockets, tiny masterpieces that don’t just make phone calls; they organize our lives, store and capture our memories and in the end, they contain the power to give us instantaneous information. So high is the power of the mobile devices that we readily use it over any computer, visit any library or pull out any map. In an increasingly mobile centric world, there’s one question that comes up, what’s next? Enter wearable technology.

In the past few years we’ve seen a lot of ideas spring up for what wearable tech means. FitBit created a wrist accessory with the function of fitness and health monitoring, Pebble prototyped and demonstrated the first principles for a smartwatch and Google tackled some headset concepts with Google Glass and Google Cardboard. While there are many ideas taking shape, wearable technology is in it’s early infancy. Much like the first iPhone, wearable technology is an exciting development but the ideal functions are still not quite clear. This is where consumers and users come in.

Smartwatches have been called the next big tech accessory while simultaneously criticized as a techie toy with little functionality. The truth probably is closer to the middle. When new tech comes into the market there isn’t a rush to get in line and spend hundreds on unproven and little tested “tech toys” but eager customers do exist. It’s these initial customers that will show us where the industry of wearables will take us. Real world testing, reviews, and data on how these devices are being used are the compass and map to the destination of smart watches. Currently smartwatches are expected to be an add on to your mobile phone, giving you quicker access to basic information such as notifications, map directions, texts and more. As useful as that may be, $300 for the purpose of more accessible notifications is probably not worth it, especially when replying to texts, reading long emails and viewing any images isn’t convenient on tiny wrist sized screens.

The future of wearables isn’t enhancing and supporting mobile functions. The future of wearable tech lies in advancing our ability to interact with our surroundings. Google Glass opened the door to such technology – a headset that provides information about your surroundings, captures images on the go, and runs apps like maps in realtime and over the real world, all without taking out your mobile phone. These are the problems wearables should be solving, not accessing notifications and basic apps. Things like instant and seamless information about your environment, ongoing and accurate tracking of health and fitness goals, context based assistance – Apple, Google, are you both listening?

There’s even another unexplored avenue for wearables that I’m surprised hasn’t been tackled yet – gaming. How exciting would it be to play virtual laser tag anywhere but only use smartwatches. Or location based game play offering levels in real world locations that require you to interact with your surroundings. Virtual Reality has taken the biggest leap into gaming, bring you the fictional world in three dimensions, but what if it brought the game plan to the world you’re already in? Doors become portals, the floor becomes lava (ever played lava monster as a kid?), and your dog can be the sidekick goblin you secretly wish you always had. Even with smartwatches, the gameplay can evolve. You have a fixed sensor on your wrist, capable of detecting motion, speed and location, Nintendo used similar technology for the Wii. Smartwatch tennis anyone?

So when do we get to mainstream wearables? Well we’re almost there. FitBit nailed it with a watch like health and fitness device. Google Glass and the upcoming Microsoft Hologram are tackling the headset challenges in compelling ways. Even VR headsets by Oracle, Samsung and Google are beginning to discover the possibilities of wearable tech. There is, however, much work to be done. A smartwatch should recognize what objects you’re interacting with through electromagnetic sensors, offering context based information, apps, and do things like start your car when it recognizes that you’ve just opened the front door before going to work. Head sets need to display useful information about your surroundings, give real time information about travel time and even translate on the fly. Wearables need to go beyond mobile to become unique and desirable, they need to give us more than just easy access to what our phones already have, they must add on to our lives.

Wearables are here and we haven’t even talked about all the possibilities. They’re evolving to work not only on our body, but with our body. They’re ready to enhance our daily lives, we just have a little bit of work to do. Besides obvious technical improvements like battery life, screen resolution, and processing power, we have the functionality questions to address as well. How do we use wearables? What problems can they solve? How do we make it all seamless? These are the questions we have yet to answer and when we do, we can embrace the information age to it’s fullest.


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