A wearable world

Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD


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Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD

The biggest buzzword out there since “The Internet of Things” (IoT) was coined by  Kevin Ashton is currently the term “Wearables”, a subset of the cloud-based user-oriented marketplace the IoT represents. Wearable devices have been presented as the very culmination of personal device technology, the gadget zenith. You and your devices as a (relatively) seamless gestalt of form, function, utility, and (hopefully) style.

But what is considered a Wearable? A smart phone, although it is a personal device that one keeps in a pocket or purse when it isn’t welded to our hands, isn’t considered a wearable. A wristwatch is considered a Wearable, what about a pocket watch with fob & chain? Would your cell phone be considered a Wearable if it had a chain attached to you? Is it a Wearable when it’s in the sport case strapped to your arm?

For clarity let’s say a Wearable is something that you can operate and use without it being in your hand at the time. A smart watch qualifies, as does Google Glass. That smart phone in your sports case would not qualify unless it was designed to be strapped to a part of your body you can easily access with one hand. One-handed use is a qualifier in that you free the hand that used to hold the device.

Beyond the real definition of Wearable, the promise is all that it’s cracked up to be (non-sequitur: is “cracked up to be” from the Gaelic “Craic”?). Properly designed Wearable devices are personal force multipliers, clothing or other personal items (hats, gloves, etc) with gadgets integrated in a way that allows their use and enjoyment to be an intuitive pleasure.

This goes beyond personal tech, as well. Some Wearable technologies bridge multiple application areas, most visibly heath, sports, and medical devices. That heart-monitoring bodysuit benefits both the athlete and the geriatric. There are many areas of application overlap that will become more apparent (who thought cameras in phones would be so hot?) as the core technologies mature. Implantable technology, currently restricted to major medical issues, will eventually migrate into sports and other consumer application spaces as well.

User interfaces will become to standardize as well over time, as users demand more consistent interfaces and major application spaces define themselves. Sleeve-mounted controls, for example, should be useable without having to look at them, regardless what company made the smart ski jacket you are renting at the slope. You should be able to adjust the response on your piezoelectrically-stiffened skis and have your route markers activate as you stand at the top of the run enjoying the view.

Remember that every developing field is full of both good and bad products and we need both. It’s obvious why we need the good ones, but don’t be discouraged by the odd products out there made just because somebody thought they could. Just remember we cannot predict every successful product, and many things we thought useless or ridiculous turned out dominating the industry.