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The 5 critical lessons CES taught us about wearable tech

Jon Phillips | Jan. 10, 2014
If you begin to see smartwatches dangling from tree branches, and activity-tracking wrist bands collecting in rain gutters, then you can thank the Consumer Electronics Show for belching out something akin to a pyroclastic flow of wearable tech over half the earth's surface.

Still, we did see flashes of niftier innovation under the CES tent. The Basis tracker looks better than ever in Carbon Steel Edition trim, and exposing REM sleep patterns is a trick that piques my quantified self. I'm also super intrigued by Sony's Core life event graphing. Sure, it may not surprise and delight us when the product finally ships, but it's an approach that advances an activity-tracking space that threatens to enter a bubble of me-too mediocrity.

3. Smartwatch vendors still don't get design
If you gathered up half of the smartwatches on display at CES 2014, and threw them inside a clear, plastic sack, you'd see a close approximation of what the Brits have traditionally called a Bag of Tat: A loose collection of cheap, gaudy trinkets that provide almost zero value individually, and specious value in aggregate. 

OK, I'm exaggerating. Probably. Maybe just a bit. But I got up close and personal with almost every smartwatch of CES 2014, and found way too much industrial design that I would never want attached to my wrist. Some CES watches looked gaudy enough for gumball machines. Some looked like they were designed by circa-1970s digital watch companies — and not in a good way.

And, yeah, I like the "idea" of the mega-large Pine smartwatch. I'm glad at least one smartwatch company dared to create something akin to a tablet that you wear on the end of your arm. Someone had to do it. I'm just doubtful this is the fashion statement for me.

Now, I actually have great faith in the basic smartwatch concept despite the fact that heavyweights like Samsung and Sony have let us down. In fact, I think both Google and Apple are perfectly primed for smartwatch success, and I hope they bring life to smartwatch rumors that remained at a slow boil throughout 2013. But for now, as we wait for others to figure out the smartwatch market, designers really need to get their visual ID under control.

4. Smartglasses aren't actually real
The concept. I love the concept. Notifications that appear in my line of sight. Completely hands-free text messaging. Augmented-reality overlays displaying contextual information on top of the pedestrian landscape of (yuck) real life. It all sounds great in theory, but not a single set of smartglasses is ready for mainstream consumers. CES 2014 only reinforced what most of us already know.

Epson showed off second-generation Moverio glasses that poke and hint at useful industrial applications, but you will never — never — see a normal using this latest version in a public setting. There's just no mainstream use case. And the Epson specs look like movie props. Do you want to be that guy?

 

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