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

The technology and time are right for wearable computers -- at least the ones with eyeglasses as the user interface. But smartwatches? No way.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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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