Mobility

For 2014, wearables actually means wristables

Expecting to rush out to the stores to pick up the latest fashionable "smart" clothing will remain a dream for a little while yet.

During the Computex conference held in Taiwan this month, one of the "hot topics" that everyone wanted to talk about was wearables. The whole wearables area has been brewing for some time, and really took off at CES held in January this year.

The media predictably gushed over the arrival of a onesie for babies that contained an Intel Edison chip that was used as a baby monitor. The Age of Wearables was here, where we were informed, and to expect a revolution to wash over us in the coming months.

Except it never arrived, and the revolution has only seeped out so far in the form of items that attach to wrists, or Google can form into eyewear.

Wearables can be spoken of as the consumerisation of the Internet of Things (IoT) -- a trend that is easy to believe went from zero to everywhere seemingly in an eye blink, but that is only true if one ignores that the IoT was more the addition of cheap connectivity to over 30 years of embedded computing than the creation of a new computing form.

The main issue when developing wearables is the same issue that designers and engineers have been wrestling with for millenia: humans.

When an IoT device needs to survive the trials and tribulations of tracking a truck through outback Australia, the answer is to put a thumping big protective case around it and send it out into the never-never.

By contrast, the question that always seems to stop any thought of smart-shirts, or smart-pants, is not one based on its actual usage, but rather, how does one put a smart-shirt through the wash? Between the water, soap, and physical abuse from being rotated and banged against the washing machine's drum walls for an hour, there's also the potential abuse of even more banging with a tumble drier, and the need to survive a thorough heating up in the ironing process.

A protective black box approach could keep the precious Edison chip inside a baby's onesie safe, but it is hardly going to capture the imagination of parents, nor be particularly fashionable.

Throughout the week at Computex, I asked folks about the wearable future we were promised, and in return was told that it would be less smart-jacket ala Marty McFly in Back to the Future II, and more of the dropable-into-a-pocket or attachable style of future.

And although it fails to meet any sort of seamless future, it looks to be the best approach that the boffins in wearable technology have come up with.

Given the shortcomings of the clothing version of wearables, it is little wonder that by-and-large, the wrist has become the focus. Watches and wristbands are much easier and cheaper to toughen up for everyday use, and have well defined and understood use cases.

Salesforce announced recently that it had created a developer pack for wearable computing in the enterprise. And while it could be viewed as Salesforce stepping up the pace of innovation and not wanting to be left behind, the question remains: Exactly what is it that Salesforce is worried about being left behind?

From smartwatches, to wristbands, and even Google Glass, earth-shattering new use cases are yet to appear, thus far it has merely been a simpler and slightly quicker way to replicate functionality found in smartphones.

When the only value that a format offers is to shave seconds off taking a more powerful device out of your pocket, it is a format that is looking desperately for a reason to exist.

Unfortunately, the shake-up that wearables needs is unlikely to happen this year, it looks like we are locked into the era of wristables, rather than wearables, for another year.

About

Some would say that it is a long way from software engineering to journalism, others would correctly argue that it is a mere 10 metres according to the floor plan.During his first five years with CBS Interactive, Chris started his journalistic advent...

3 comments
inet32
inet32

Wearables is not exactly a new concept -  I attended a wearables conference sponsored by the MIT Media Lab in 1997 that included a fashion show and a presentation by Leonard Nimoy.    Expect a very long, slow, rollout.

yoav
yoav

A true 2014 wearable at  www.personal-healthwatch.com

smithrikey
smithrikey

I remember Smart Watch from Samsung and other wearable piece of tech. I guess incorporating it in your clothing is such a great idea.

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