ImproMed, LLC. Logo
Issue: 69 - Sep 15, 2014
Wearable Tech – Your Watch is about to Get a Lot Smarter
By: Robert Malinowski, DVM, MA
Robert Malinowski, DVM, MA

These days, it’s difficult to find someone without a smartphone clutched in their hands. In the span of less than a decade, it’s become the device that you can’t live without, your essential link to everything in the world. Sure, it started with phone calls, text messaging and email, but the capabilities of this magical device quickly evolved to replace other physical devices such as cameras and GPS navigation units. Beyond hardware, the ever-growing selection of apps allows the smartphone to essentially become just about anything. It’s possible to stream live TV to the palm of your hand, monitor your home security video system or even control your garage door opener.

Despite all of these functions, the smartphone still somehow feels separate from the human experience, almost bolted on as an afterthought. People grasp and stare at these metallic rectangles - which seem in some ways to act as physical barriers, creating mile-wide rifts between people that may only be a few feet apart. The devices themselves look and feel very inorganic and, despite how thin and beautiful they may become, in the end are nothing more than just another device you need to place in your pocket or bag.

Luckily, there have been some impressive advances in a field called “wearable technology” that may help to solve these issues. Wearable technology is designed to be less intrusive and integrate seamlessly with your current form. Using this approach, advanced technologies can be added in to items that you use every day, including clothing, eye glasses and jewelry. The idea is to give the end user one less thing to awkwardly carry around. Instead, function is fused with the form of an existing accessory that you are already using.

One of the most popular examples of wearable technology is Google Glass. This is essentially a pair of eyeglasses with an integrated heads up display (HUD) built into one of the lenses. Having many of the same features as a smartphone, Glass lets users experience Google Maps, Gmail, Facebook and Twitter directly from the device. Despite these impressive capabilities, Glass still looks and feels obtrusive. It’s not exactly transparent technology and is difficult to wear and use without being noticed. Due to its high “geek level,” critics feel that it will never be widely adopted. Also, if you don’t currently wear prescription eyeglasses, adding this device to your daily routine will require some adjustment.

Recently, wearable technology has decided to focus on another area: your wrist. Think of it as an upgrade for Dick Tracy. There’s a lot of competition brewing in this area, so it’ll be interesting to see what some of the heavyweights like Microsoft and Apple come up with later in the year. For now, there are several different options to explore. One of the first contenders (from way back in 2013) is the Pebble watch. This device is designed to connect to your existing smartphone (Android or iOS) via BlueTooth, allowing you to keep the bulky device in your pocket and instead receive text messages and other devices on your watch. In this way, the Pebble is a companion device, relying on your smartphone to be the brains of the operation, providing internet connectivity and content. You can also load apps directly onto your Pebble, including custom watch faces, games, navigation tools and timers. It’s an inexpensive device that can actually replace your current watch and make some features of your smartphone more accessible and fun to use.

Android Wear takes things to the next level. Wear is the hyper portable version of Google’s Android operating system, marketed as “information that moves with you.” It is designed to bring the full experience of the Google ecosystem to your wrist, with useful features including texting, appointments, email and fitness applications. In addition, many apps from Google Play are also compatible with Wear. For now, the selection of watches is rather limited and includes the Gear Live, Moto 360 and G Watch. This will soon expand to include additional devices from manufacturers such as Asus, Sony and others.

Wearable technology is still in its infancy, but it will soon have a huge impact on how we use and interface with technology. Rather than treating technology as an add-on, which is how we use our smartphones today, wearable technology will give us the ability to infuse technology into many of the things that we have present with us every day. For 2014, it looks like the focus is going to be on watches. Samsung has already released some pretty amazing devices, but stay tuned to see what Microsoft and Apple will release later this year.