Smart wearables are quickly developing into powerful compact computing devices capable of performing several tasks. Irrespective of their form, all smart wearables provide a convenient way of interacting with our smartphones or tablets. They also provide a hands-free experience and are capable of mirroring notifications from smartphones directly to the user. At their best, they are fun to wear and stylish.
Smart wearables already play a vital role in productivity, fitness, entertainment, medicine, and commerce. For many, they are personal assistants on a wrist. And more and more, they are becoming a gateway to the world of IoT.
But wearable computing is not new, and you may be surprised to learn that the concept has been developing over many centuries. The fascinating tale of wearable technology began to take its form 750 years ago with the invention of the world’s first corrective lenses in 1266. The first wearable watch was fashioned in the 16th century. Let’s take a look at today’s smart wearables and some devices of the past that inspired them.
The actual concept of “smart” wearables started to emerge in mid-1970s. Pulsar released the world’s first calculator watch in 1975. Soon after, other top watchmakers including Seiko and Casio started to produce watches and bracelets with additional digital capabilities. These primitive devices — by 21st century standards — stored few bits of data in the form of numbers, text, and audio. But very few people bought or used them. Fast forward to today: Smart wearables, especially smartwatches, are widely used for an array of purposes including multimedia, entertainment, fitness, and fashion.
Almost all the smartphone manufacturers have entered into the smart wearables market and have at least one product available. Apart from traditional smart gear makers such as Apple, Samsung, and Pebble, luxury watch makers Tag Heuer, Fossil, and Breitling are also in the race with their smartwatches. Among all the available smartwatches in the market, most are platform dependent. They can be connected to either an Android or iOS phone, but not both.
Health and fitness
Smart wearables have found their biggest market in one key area: health and fitness. Using a smartwatch or fitness band to track activity or to monitor various health issues and conditions has gone mainstream. The typical fitness tracker monitors a range of activities, including the number of calories burned and distance covered. As an adjunct to popular smartphone fitness apps, the runner, hiker, or biker can track their progress with a glance at the wrist. Other smartwatch applications offer heartbeat monitoring and can analyze sleep patterns. These health and fitness wearables are paired with other devices such as a smartphone or a tablet to store and analyze long-term data gleaned from these aforementioned activities.
Fitness tracking is not a new concept. Leonardo Da Vinci worked on a rudimentary gear-and-pendulum pedometer that was meant to track the treks of 15th-century Roman soldiers. But unlike today’s fashionable fitness trackers, Leonardo’s massive pedometer could hardly be worn on the wrist.
In 2006, a collaboration between Nike and Apple resulted in Nike+iPod, a device placed inside or on the shoe that transmitted fitness-related information to an iPod paired with the tracking device. Fitbit began selling its fitness tracker in 2009. The Fitbit can be clipped onto your clothes and keeps track of all your fitness-related activities. Fitbit later expanded its portfolio of fitness-tracking wearables and brought several other devices to the wearable market. Currently, there are hundreds of established brands including Jawbone, Garmin VivoFit, Misfit, and FuelBand, each with a slightly different experience.
These activity and fitness trackers have already imparted their positive impact on users as they motivate them to stay active and eat healthier. Even so, health and fitness trackers are still in their infancy. Many researchers predict that these devices will soon be able to predict major health issues such as cardiovascular problems and changes in blood pressure.
Starting with the world’s first corrective eye lenses produced 750 years ago, smart eyewear has seen tremendous advancements in terms of features and functionality. Smart glasses are a digital wearable system that adds information to what the wearer sees. They are usually paired with another device such as a smartphone or a computer. They access their information through the Internet and project the data to the user through an optical head-mounted display (OHMD) system.
As their display moves with our head, smart glasses are independent of a user’s position and orientation. Like other smart wearables, smart glasses collect information through a set of internal and external sensors embedded in the device. These smart glasses are meant to enhance the vision of a wearer not only in terms of general sight but can also provide a lot of other information about subjects in the wearer’s vision. These devices can be used in GPS tracking, route analysis, remote accessing of a smartphone, virtual reality, augmented reality, and diminished reality. For example, smart glasses can provide a complete view of a map along with directions to your destination. They can also provide information about the weather and the places around you.
While smart glasses have yet to take off in the consumer market — just look at the problems Google Glass has encountered — they are beginning to be widely used in the fields of medicine.
Digital jewelry, as the name itself suggests, may be the most fashionable form of smart wearables. This wearable is created by embedding smart sensors in fashionable jewelry. Most of the leading tech giants such as IBM have started developing digital jewelry technology.
Digital jewelry is a wireless computing system that uses intelligent sensors and peripherals that allow users to communicate, store, access, and analyze data. Digital jewelry typically takes the forms of rings, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Computing peripherals such as speakers, receivers, microphones, and storage units are embedded inside them. As the field is still in its infancy, their uses are limited. Currently, some rings and bracelets inform you discreetly that you are receiving a phone call or message. Some stylish pendants are really fitness trackers.
Digital jewelry, however, is not completely independent. A mobile device or a computer within the wireless range is needed to carry out functionality.
The smart wearable field has progressed impressively over just the past few years, but there is still much to be achieved. For many users, the biggest issue is charging. Here, solar-powered wearables may be the future. Also, most smart wearables aren’t standalone devices because they rely on a smartphone or a computer for full-fledged performance. But perhaps the biggest hurdle is the need to provide killer applications that no other device can match. Let us hope that these smart wearables get even smarter .