Wearable computing: Why there's no room for watches like Galaxy Gear

Wearable computing: Why there's no room for watches like Galaxy Gear

Summary: The technology and time are right for wearable computers -- at least the ones with eyeglasses as the user interface. But smartwatches? No way.


When I was a kid, I liked reading Dick Tracy comics. This was during 1960s when the strip took a science-fiction turn and Tracy, who had long sported a two-way radio wrist-watch, started using a two-way wrist TV. It was fun then to think about high-tech electronics in a wrist-watch.

Science fiction then, market fiction today. (Credit: Wikimedia)

That was then. This is now.

Samsung is pulling out all the stops for its Samsung Galaxy Gear, aka Smart Watch. That's nice, but the watch is yesterday's format.

I've been following real-world wearable computers since 1997, when I attended an IEEE International symposium on wearable computers in Cambridge MA. By 2002, I was trying out the Xybernaut Poma Wearable PC. More recently, I've been playing with Google Glass.

Do you know what the one thing that all the most successful prototypes and devices had in common? They were all based around the idea of the user interface as glasses.

Yes, there's been a lot of talk about smartwatches lately. Apple and Google are both moving into this space, but I just can't see it myself.

Why not? James Kendrick recently spelled out the problems with smartwatches  First, smartwatches have been around for a while, and you may have noticed something about them... that you haven't noticed them. That's because they've never taken off.

The core problem is that a watch's display simply isn't big enough. Have you noticed that there seems to be a right size for smartphones and tablets? We want bigger, 4- to 4.5-inch smartphone screens and 7-inches is the sweet spot for tablets.

OK, now would you want to wear even a 4-inch screen on your arm? I don't think so.

The technology and time is right for wearable computers. First, and foremost, is the ubiquitous Internet. With Wi-Fi and 4G anywhere you go, your wearable device can access all the riches of the Internet.

On top of that we have the batteries, energy-efficient computer components, flash memory, and faster, low-powered processors we need for wearable computing to take off. We're now in "steam boat time." It's that time when all the technologies are lined up for a new development. In the early 19th century it was steamboats; in the early 21st century, it's human-wearable computers.

These aren't going to be just toys, by the way. For all the fun that some people have about making fun of Google Glass, they're coming to businesses as well as tech hipsters.

I can see a few developers making a mint from wearable apps, others will make enough to pay the bills, and most developers will make enough to buy a round of beer for their mates at the local pub. It's a pity you can't tell from the start which will be which.

At the same time, businesses will also benefit from wearable computers. Say, you're a salesperson at a trade show. Here comes a big client whose name is.... and <ID: Bucks> flashes in front of your eyes. Mr. Bucks asks you what's the best you can do on widgets in the next quarter and you say, "Widgets? Next Quarter..." and <Widgets: $20.99 per hundred> pops up in front of you.

Or, say you're in a warehouse, and you can "read" the codes on the boxes at a glance. You're working on an engine and the manual floats in front of your eyes. You get the idea. 

In short, wearable computers are coming and for the next 20 years, they will have glasses for their interface. After that, we're looking at contact lens and, yes even cyborg-style embedded computing. 

Sure, a watch may play a part. For example, I can see the a watch holding the storage, wireless networking and processor for a pair of smart glasses with Bluetooth connecting them, but a watch as an all-in-one device? Nah.

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Topics: Hardware, Emerging Tech, Samsung

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  • Meh

    I thought the smart watch screen would be a hinder acne but the integration they have achieved with the phone is perhaps something do a difference maker. I'll give it a chance. Plus with sensors, motion and gesture capability very interesting.

    Glasses however are more of a concern ... More intrusive and in your face unless you adopt 1970s hair flipping head jerks any gestures will have to look like sign language movements in the air or batting gnats.
  • I don't want crap on my face

    That's the big problem with glasses. I don't have to wear eye glasses, and if I did, I'd probably get contacts. So why would I want some thing hanging on my face?

    As to a small UI on a watch, it may be a problem... or it may not. If the thing had screen
    projection, SIRI, and Kinect like capabilities, the size of the watch might be irrelevant.
    • Re: If the thing had screen projection

      Or, if it could project holograms.
      • Dimension

        Yeah - Would add a whole new dimension to surfing p0rn sites. (pun intended)
  • What?

    "With Wi-Fi and 4G anywhere you go, your wearable device can access all the riches of the Internet" may be true in NY or in the Silicon Valley, but in the Southwest most places don't have either 4g or Wifi. Some, like my place of employment, don't allow cell phones or Wifi. I don't want anything "flashing in my eye". Just give me a 4 inch or 7 inch flexible bracelet to leave in the car at work and wear under my sleeve the rest of the time. Go Dick Tracy!
  • "would you want to wear even a 4-inch screen on your arm?"

    Of course not. The arm can fit a 5-inch screen and that's what I'd want. As long as it has a real ethernet port on it, full USB, and everything else I need when I'm servicing a piece of equipment at 350ft up a tower.
    • I've been wearing a Nokia E7 for nearly 3 years

      on a wristmount, and its just natural to me to have an interactive visual device on my arm now. If it was part of my arm and hand, that would be even better but I doubt I'll live long enough to see that. I've waited long enough for a computer small enough to do the job, and then I found one with a useable keyboard hidden under the screen that ran an open OS.

      Besides being useful with hands full of tools I also slide it round underneath my left hand when I'm playing my guitar so it can keep time, record and play backing, display chords and lyrics and control other equipment over bluetooth. Arduinos, my computer, anything really, it doesnt really need the ropy USB support its got onboard. They even put a phone in there along with a magnetometer and accurate positioning sensors, I couldnt believe my luck.

      It works well enough until someone makes a thinner one, because it hasnt made me fashionable yet. Although it wouldnt help me much at 350 feet either, being hard to use with both my hands firmly full of girder... Kudos indeed.
  • I wear glasses

    I would rather not wear glasses.
    Maybe a smart pocket watch?
  • They haven't been tried!

    Every time I read a post about this, the writer tries to convince me that smart watches have had their chance and failed. This is completely untrue.

    Watches so far have either been made by tiny players (and lacked all the functionality of a smart phone) or been bound to an existing device (as is Samsung's lackluster new contender and as Sony's so-called smart watches have been).

    A real smart watch - if anybody ever makes one - must have the same independence as a smart phone and thus be able to functionally replace one. That's what I'd want a watch for - god knows I don't need yet another tablet device in my life. I would chuck the phone and go with a watch in a heartbeat, personally. Once such watches have hit the market, THEN we can say the smart watch has had its chance.
    • Re: A real smart watch

      A "real" smartphone in the form of watch already exists ... and it is not selling much.
  • The big problem

    with smart watches is watches are jewelry, a status symbol. Most people are gonna stick with the Rolex, Tag Heuer, etc.
    • All watches are just staus symbols these days

      They serve no real purpose since nearly everyone carries a phone with them.
      • Rather not

        I would rather not have to pull my phone out of my pocket or holster to check the time. Ideally (at least as far as I am concerned), a watch, smart or otherwise, would be used to grab information at a glance without fumbling around with a larger device. If the info warrents, that could be done seperately.
  • Maybe watches will become obsolete

    when flexible screens allow you to have your entire arm painted with the Internet. One just never knows. Or maybe the Futurama EyePhone will become the norm. (season 7, Attack of the killer app),

    Who knows what the future holds?? Surely not Steven!
    • Why the arm?

      The belly, or the back have more real estate and are less curved. ;-)
      • Well, I can't see

        my own back, and probably don't want to (very ugly). Belly reminds me that I shouldn't eat that last Oreo (90 calories plus fat count!) and it may be just as curved as the arm!
  • Do you still use watches ?

    I found out, not many people using watches today. They more like bracelet than their function.
    May be next big thing will be smart bracelet, not smart watch :p
    Like Leiya in Futurama, someday some people willing use it for their activities.
  • Watches = No

    I agree; smart watches are too small. Think "bracelets" or "sweatbands" or even "gauntlets." Look at what football quarterbacks wear on their forearms that holds the playbook. Make it gaudy enough that it catches the eye. Ensure that you get some sci-fi or mainstream show to use something similar in order to catch the public's interest. Use flexible OLED for the screen. And for God's sake, DON'T show people holding their wrist up to the side of their heads to "talk on the phone"!!!
  • Watches

    I actually started wearing a G-shock, but never wore a watch before. I always have to write the date on things at work and it's easier to just have that there. Plus it looks pretty cool and gives you that "responsible look", I guess. However, I agree with some comments here for the most part a watch is basically not a need, just a want for either a little added convenience and/or for that certain appearance you want. I doubt I'll get any smart watch unless it is available as a shock type and take a beating, because it would be too traumatic to get a scratch on anything worth over $100.
    D.J. 43