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back to article Google wearables: A solution looking for a rich nerd

If you've spent any time looking at transport technology - how cars and trains got here - you've got a head start over most VCs and pundits in understanding wearable computing. I'll explain why. Google's Android Wear is the biggest deal in wearable computing since Microsoft's abortive SPOT 12 years ago. And Google hasn't waited …

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Anonymous Coward

The garage door?

Well actually I seem to recall about a decade ago a few applications that made use of then "de facto" IR interfaces on mobile phone for remote controlling appliances such as garage doors.... :-)

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Re: The garage door?

And now you could conceivably do the same using something like a Raspberry Pi, which your phone connects to via your home network It may not be in a typical smartphone app in use today, but that doesn't mean it isn't an option.

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Happy

Re: The garage door?

Ahem.

https://github.com/CrashCash/android-raspberrypi-garagedoor

https://github.com/bradfitz/android-garage-opener (which is about 4 years old)

I guess that's as close as possible to the "self-satistifed twit" icon...

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Re: The garage door?

It's such a simple and obvious thing to do, and I am so glad that somebody has bothered to do so!

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battery life

If the battery life is good (like weeks between recharges) it might take off.

And the earpieces- who the hell wants to look like they have a hearing aid or like Agent Smith from the matrix?

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Re: battery life

> who the hell wants to look like they have a hearing aid or like Agent Smith from the matrix?

Deaf FBI agents?

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Re: battery life

Look like Agent Smith from the matrix eh?

Hmmm... I can work with that.

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Change the world they wont, but they are handy for lazy people such as myself.

Also great fun to tinker with, seeing as you can link most stuff to it. Tasker integration is great.

I have a pebble, the original one. So Around £100, not £300 (no idea what samsung were thinking)

The stuff i use it for most is changing music when on the train and dont want to un-tangle a length of headphone cable, turning lights off at home when on the sofa watching a film, checking my train is on time as i run for it, and seeing who is calling then picking up, again when the phone is buried.

Im not looking for a killer app, its just nice to have.

but again, i tooks me years to get the pebble at £100. I dont think ive ever spend more.

The problem though, i get 4 or 5 days charge from the pebble's e-ink screen.

The video shows an almost HD screen, im sure that leads to charging everyday.

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Re:

"but they are handy for lazy people such as myself."

I like how people are willing to change their existing garage-door controller to and invest on a device that will need frequent charging, just because they are too lazy to pick-up their garage door remote.

This is like Google Wallet (the thing that was intended to replace credit cards). Google wants to take something that never breaks and doesn't need frequent recharging, and replace it with something that has limited battery life and is expensive.

The good thing smartphone manufacturers did is that they took stuff that was already expensive and had limited battery life (Mp3 player, PDA, cellphone), and combined them in one device.

PS: Anyway, this thing will get you geek bragging rights. People will look at you at the pub. That's the good thing about it.

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deja vu all over again

> And Google hasn't waited for technology to get smaller or better or cheaper - it's forging ahead, creating a platform while others hesitate.

That's what Microsoft did with tablets. I don't think I need to elaborate further.

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Re: deja vu all over again

Yep, I sometimes get the impression that Apple spread the rumour that they where working on a smartwatch so that other people would make them and show Apple how not to do it.

Or maybe, they want their competitor to concentrate on watches while Apple eats their lunch somewhere else.

But I am probably giving them too much credit.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: deja vu all over again

But they didn't really did they. They took an existing crap platform (windows) sprinkled some appallingly badly written tablet-pixie-dust on it and ended up with windows with some crap pen support. Then they got some people to stick this start of the fart software on start of the art hardware.

Google seems to be thinking very hard about what a wearable should be for and targeting the platform at that. If they do it well and say here's the software do what you like with it I think a lot of people will run with it.

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Re: deja vu all over again

Okay AC. It's 2001. What platform do you pick for tablet computing? Assume you're right and that the most popular OS ever (XP) is crap; what's better? Android? I don't think that exists, AC, and it won't for another 6 years. iOS? That doesn't exist either except as Cisco firmware.

ARM chips? Good for dishwashers and the Psion Organizer, not much else.

So what platform do you pick?

Or do you just sneer about it from 13 years in the future?

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Re: deja vu all over again

What you do back in 2001 is you don't attempt a tablet at all, because if you can't do it right, the product isn't worth trying.

Apple started work on the iPad before the iPhone, but knew that they'd have to wait a while to get sufficient CPU/graphics at a low enough power, so they did the phone first. If Microsoft had done so, they wouldn't have had over 15 years of failed tablet efforts (don't forget "pen computing" back in the 90s!) in their wake (I'll be charitable and consider Surface merely lackluster rather than failed)

The question is, is the time right to do a smartwatch "right"? If it is something people will ever demand at all, it will need certain capabilities and performance. This is a problem for Google because they must release a platform to prevent more stuff like Galaxy Gear that doesn't use Android, but they risk OEMs doing it too early or just plain badly and damaging the brand.

Apple can afford to wait until they think the time is right and all the pieces are in place and not release until they think they'll hit another home run like they did with the iPod, iPhone and iPad. They don't care if Samsung and Google beat them to market. They weren't first to market with a music player, smartphone or tablet, either.

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@dogged

Symbian? QNX possibly?

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Re: deja vu all over again

“people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

- Steve Jobs

You argument seems to be that it's all about timing. I'd say the fact that a tiny "piss ant" company that started on Kickstarter 18 months ago has shipped 400,000 watches since then is a sign that there is some demand. Come out with a watch that still looks and feels like a watch, tells the time but also helps them keep their phone in their pocket and that nascent demand will increase.

Google Glass is a niche product.

Smartwatches are a mainstream product.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: deja vu all over again

I won't try to defend Microsoft's approach to tablets (which has DNA reaching back into the mid-90s and their pen windows stuff) but what msft did get right was what Google is doing - getting an sdk out there and working before the hardware is 100 percent , so they can drive the development paradigm. That's what they did with win32, and it paid off well. Google's doing the same thing, so when a reasonable wearable arrives, they have developers in place.

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Re: deja vu all over agai

It is all about timing and the timing is right.

Are people going to give up their retinal screen 64bit smart phone with a fat battery as they have a pebble? No.

Do you want to leave your super computer smart phone in your coat pocket and interface with it via your watch? Yes.

It pisses me right off to pull my 5s out of my pocket to read "okay" from my mates about plans so meet up next week whilst in a business meeting.

My smart phone stores gigs of coursera videos for me to watch on the go. It's going no where. (But on a train or plane I like my iPad mini for movies. My 2010 honda has an iPod jack so it likes my phone, so the iPhone is the "base station" and no watch will replace it).

Do I really need to pull out my 5s of my pocket unless I need video? It's my big screen and big storage and big battery. I need an iWatch for the low bandwidth stuff like chat and reminders and email subjects from contacts. Apple is going to deliver it.

You don't have to be Steve Jobs to see the future. You just have to have high expectations which are realistic. Blackberry and Microsoft can wipe my behind whilst I check my iWatch. Microsoft are the MSOffice (tm) dinosaur with a business partner model. They bought failed Nokia to improve themselves. Google is an advertising broker who ship betas which would bankrupt any consumer business. Samsung is a "me to" manufacturer who is only mildly less embarrassing than HTC because any good idea needs one good emulator to prove its the best idea. Pebble is a copy-me half-hit wonder.

Let's wait and see what Apple does then declare it "obvious".

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Kinetic...

How about kinetically recharging devices through the regular activities/movements of your body?

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Re: Kinetic...

+1. Mechanical watches have been doing that for over a century.

Also, I'm sure there's a joke about computers, wrists and vigorous activity in there somewhere.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Kinetic...

It's very hard to concentrate on your watch screen if it's jerking around like that.

You could use your other arm but then it would feel like somebody else's watch.

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FAIL

Re: Kinetic...

Watches can do that because they run on so little energy that a tiny coin cell can power them for years. That's the sort of energy you can harvest from daily movement. Now take that same coin cell, and see how long it can power anything running at hundreds of megahertz and having a backlit screen...

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Meh

What's the big deal with charging every day?

Disclaimer: I may be totally wrong here, as I've never lived with a smart watch.

But I have a smart phone, which I charge every night.

And I used to use a mechanical watch, which I had to wind every day.

I also remember the "good old days" of the Psion 3 and Psion 5, which would go for weeks on a pair of AAs. Some people scoffed then that backlit colour screens would never take off, as they would eat batteries.

Is charging every day really a deal breaker?

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Re: What's the big deal with charging every day?

"And I used to use a mechanical watch, which I had to wind every day."

Notice the words "used to" there. How many people actually use such a watch these days? Unless it's just a fashion statement, no-one wants a watch that requires constant maintenance. You can get a watch for £5 that will last several years without needing to be touched at all, and will be more accurate than a mechanical one as well.

"I have a smart phone, which I charge every night... Is charging every day really a deal breaker?"

Yes. Note that one of the most common complaints about phones is that the battery does not last anywhere near as long as people would like. We accept having to charge them regularly because at the moment there's simply no alternative, but there are constant efforts to make them last longer and to make charging less inconvenient when it is necessary. Replacing a watch that never needs charging with one that needs charging every day, in addition to the phone which will also need charging, is just adding even more inconvenience. And as the article notes, it doesn't add any real convenience to compensate, it just does the same as the phone you already have, but not quite as well. Voluntarily paying for extra unnecessary inconvenience is not something consumers do.

"Some people scoffed then that backlit colour screens would never take off, as they would eat batteries."

Some people may have done so, but the fact is that backlit colour screens do things that previous screens didn't. People are willing to compromise in some areas if they get enough benefits in others. But the only benefit a smartwatch has is that you don't have to take it out your pocket. In return you have to compromise battery life, screen size, processor power (how hot do you want your wrist?), cost (you still need a phone to connect to it), and so on. And of course, even that sole benefit is hardly even such a thing at all. You still need both your hands to actually use a smartwatch - it's attached to one and you need the other to do anything with it. So while you don't need to actually hold it in your hand, having it on your wrist offers no real convenience over having it in your pocket anyway. People scoffed at backlit screens because they thought the cost would outweigh the benefits. People scoff at smartwatches because there are no benefits, only costs.

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Re: What's the big deal with charging every day?

Personally I don't mind charging my smartphone every day - it goes to sleep, on charge, when I do and is ready for me when I wake up. I guess a similar logic could be applied to smart wearables.

The only downside is that it does make it annoying when you're away from a charger for more than a day which does happen now and then. A lot of the convenience of smart wearables would be lost if you had to carry around extra batteries just in case.

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Re: What's the big deal with charging every day?

It is if you ever want to be more than a day from a charging point...

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Re: What's the big deal with charging every day?

I have no problem with charging my phone every day - I get to work, plug it into my laptop and leave it there until I need it. That's fine, if I wasn't charging it then it would still be sat on my desk.

The problem with a smart watch by comparison is that in normal daily use it should be on my wrist, but if it's charging then I'm not wearing it and it's therefore largely useless as a watch. Which is a shame, as I actually really like the look of the Motorola offering.

The other problem is price - as a piece of convenience tech I get it, but it's not worth any more than about £50 to me, and I would be surprised if any of these were less than double that, more likely 4 times.

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Re: What's the big deal with charging every day?

The big deal here is that a "dumb" watch doesn't need charging every day, so why does a smart watch? What is it that the smart watch does which justifies this additional hassle of remembering to charge it? It's bad enough to have plug sockets for charging phones and tablets, but now watches?

And because smart watches are such power hogs they do things which make them even worse than a dumb watch. For example, the first watch I owned was a 1978 Ingersoll. It's LED display burned through batteries so fast it made me push a button to show the time. Now it's like history repeating - I think smart watches are no further along their evolutionary path than my Ingersoll was.

I think smart watches need low power always-on displays - anything from LCD to mirasol. And to use low power bluetooth and open profiles for communication with other devices so they're not tied to a phone OS or platform. And to dial back on their functionality accordingly to keep their power requirements low. Give them a few more years and we may actually see some of these things. For now, I think they are largely gimmicks in search of a purpose.

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Re: What's the big deal with charging every day?

Is charging every day really a deal breaker?

Depends how its done ... if you have to flick a rubber cover off a microUSB port and then plug in a connector (having remembered which way up to do it) etc then its a bit of a pain. If its just a matter of putting the device down on a wireless recharging pad overnight then its not. I've had a Nexus 5 since a few weeks after launch and I bought a Qi charging pad very quickly - sits by my bed and stick N5 on it each night and the full charge in the morning lasts me all the next day. I'm sure for a watch it will be simple to come up with a simple wireless charging device that you place the watch on every night. So in reality charging every day is probably not an issue - in reality if it last more than a day then its got to last almost indefinitely to avoid the unexpeted "out of power" events.

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Re: What's the big deal with charging every day?

The batteries will get better, the charging will become less intrusive, the screens more efficient, the technology will become lighter.

I wear a watch. Would I prefer if that watch was really a computer, that interfaced with my phone/home/tablet, network capable, that had it's own GPS, that could do a myriad things if I wanted, that all I needed to do was drop it on the (generic and for many devices) charging plate at home every week or so, damn right I would. Even if all I used it for was maps, reminders and changeable clock faces.

Google is making an effort to have the infrastructure/software ready for when everything else catches up. I don't think that's a stupid move.

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Re: What's the big deal with charging every day?

Hand-winding a watch every day may be a slight inconvenience but it takes moments and you can keep the watch on, and do it anywhere. Having to take your watch off for an hour or 3 every day is a whole other issue. You'd get use to it but it is certainly inconvenient.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What's the big deal with charging every day?

My good ol' Seiko is self-winding :)

As for smartwatches, you'd hope the time-telling part would use a separate battery so that it wouldn't die when other features do.

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Re: What's the big deal with charging every day?

"Depends how its done ... "

Indeed. My watch receives some charge most days - it's solar.

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Re: What's the big deal with charging every day?

And indeed, at the other end of the spectrum - once you get used to not wearing a watch again, it's a relief not to need to.

I own a cheap Casio F-91W digital - cost me well under a tenner, totally reliable, a battery that will last a decade or longer, and does everything I need in a timepiece. I wore a watch every day for 30 years whilst at work, because so much of my life was driven by the clock. Now that's not the case, and the watch has slowly migrated from a permanent home on my wrist to equally permanent lodgings in my trouser pocket - from where it gets taken maybe once every couple of days (when I actually need to know the time, and taking it out's the simplest option). But in truth, I have clocks around the house, in the car, and on my phone; I'm rarely far from sight of one, and I simply don't need an extra one stuck annoyingly and uncomfortably on my wrist. So if I'm going, say, to stick serious computing power there, it better give me something I really value, and that I can't get half as well another way. So far, I simply don't see any application that remotely steps up to the task.

The recent history of technology is awash with novel and inventive ideas that went nowhere because people didn't want them, didn't need them or both. And if there's one lesson to be taken from that, it's that, just because you can make something "clever", that doesn't mean to say that people will buy it. Bet the farm at your own risk.

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Re: What's the big deal with charging every day?

My solar watch charges some days. I live in North Wales.

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Re: What's the big deal with charging every day?

Is this discussions not kind of beside the point? You wear it on the wrist and it can give the time, but the similarities with a watch stop there. A smart watch is a kiosk for your smart phone. A small convenient interface to get basic operations done without having to boot up the real computer. I certainly do believe it has it's place.

You can not compare this to a Casio watch and complaining that it will need to be recharged more often than a G-Shock makes no sense. It is in no way related to a G-Shock other than being a similar size and replicating the G-Shock's one basic function.

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Here's all I want

Just make a little disk of metal that vibrates when my phone tells it to, and I'll glue it to the bottom of my watch. Next.

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Not scared to try

A lot of modern tech companies don't know if these ideas will take off, but they have the money and the vision to take risks that is why technology in some areas is progressing so fast.

Apple might not have imagined the iPhone would become so popular, and I'm pretty sure they knew the iPad was a gamble but they went ahead anyway. Google probably didn't know their self-driving cars would ever be truly capable of being seriously looked at as a possible real-world product and within a few years every major car maker is looking at self-drive with licences being granted for real world trials and pundits expecting public availability within a decade.

It was reported that Nokia always had a fear factor about new, innovative products, as management weren't prepared to take the risks http://www.afr.com/p/technology/next_nokia_insider_who_knows_why_Z8at1lqZLp3mAutUO0ye0H.

Microsoft have been accused of similar with their main motive being profit and unprepared to invest in anything that didn't have a definitive Roi (until they went into catchup mode).

'Wearables' are just another part of this, they might go mainstream and become 'the Next Big Thing' or they might not. But if they do you want to be a market leader and there is not a business killing loss if they don't.

It was also a response to the manufacturers that this came about. Google did not invent a piece of hardware here (smartwatches). There were many companies building these watches, many of them Android partners. It made sense for Google to put together an API and make a common platform for developers to use. It also keeps Google relevant in this arena.

I could think of many uses for my app that would make perfect sense on a watch - displaying a OS grid reference out on the hills or alerting you to when you go off track, displaying a radar to your target, or a simple map overview. Much quicker on a watch display, especially in bad weather than a phone. There are watches that do some of this, and dedicated GPS hill walking devices but none of these are programmable with your own app on a common platform (Some Chinese watches are android powered and have some of these capabilities).

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Notifications

It will take off, but not in the way shown in the Google demo.

I am the owner of a Pebble Smart Watch, I've installed loads of apps for it, but the one killer feature I use is Notification Alerts.

Any time my phone alerts me about something I don't have to get the phone out of my pocket, I just check my watch and I can read the tweet, email(name, subject, first few lines), sms etc... I check my watch to see if I need to get my phone out. Anything that appears in the drop down at the top of your phone appears on your watch.

And that is it, that alone that makes the watch worth it. Yeah I have all these crazy other apps that tell me the weather etc. but they are just gimmicks and get used very rarely.

I am absolutely convinced this is the future for our mobiles, it is extremely useful, my wife even wants one which says to me this is mainstream. She says they are too manly though. As soon as the first Marc Jacobs/Gucci Smart Watch comes out this will be the next fashion accessory every women wants.

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Re: Notifications

"As soon as the first Marc Jacobs/Gucci Smart Watch comes out this will be the next fashion accessory every women wants."

You are aware the 1950's are over, aren't you? Will the killer app be one to tell her when the casserole is ready, or the one to tell her to put her husband's pipe and slippers by his comfy chair?

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Re: Notifications

So because I state that women don't want something manly I'm sexist. If they come out with a girly watch I wouldn't want to wear it either? That makes me sexist? Men and women have different tastes, that's just the way it is.

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Re: Notifications

Actually, the Watch Pro article names Fossil Group as their manufacturing partner. Fossil do Marc Jacobs, so this quite possible.

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Re: Notifications @ Peter 26

Men and women have different tastes, because they have been socially conditioned in this way.

FTFY. But I agree that there's little point in trying to get a woman to wear the current style of smart watches.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Notifications @ Peter 26

"Men and women have different tastes, because they have been socially conditioned in this way."

Next time you visit a kibbutz, a society designed and executed, amongst other things, to eliminate your alleged "social conditioning", you might find yourself astounded to discover that lifelong residents of the these communities (incl. children) have markedly different tastes, attitudes and predilections that are entirely consistent with those shown in the rest of the world by members of the same sex.

You have been drinking way too much radical feminism kool-aid.

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Re: Notifications

That use case makes sense, but getting more notifications is the last thing you should want. Without getting all Zen or Walden-esque about it, interruptions break your flow and hinder your ability to get things done. Frittering your attention onto what your phone or smartwatch thinks is important means you are ceding the control of your most important resource to someone else, e.g. advertising companies and their business need to turn us into Pavlovian dogs awaiting their next hit of notification so we can be exposed to more ads.

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Wearables could still be attractive if you have a smartphone

I don't buy the "we already have smartphones, why would anyone want a wearable?" argument. We had pocket watches before wrist watches were developed and wiped them out, we had desktop PCs but that didn't stop clunky/expensive/low performance laptops taking off, we've had laptops with feature-packed applications but we love our smartphones with their limited apps. What the history of technology does teach us is that convenience and freedom trump better/faster/bigger/cheaper. And who wants to carry a power-hungry smartphone around in their hand and pocket all the time anyway?

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Re: Wearables could still be attractive if you have a smartphone

If your watch has a cellular radio and colour screen, it will be power hungry too

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Re: Wearables could still be attractive if you have a smartphone

The newer products only took off when they replaced the old version.

Nobody carried a pocket watch AND wore a wrist watch. The wrist watch replaced the pocket watch.

Very few people had a laptop and a desktop. Laptops only really took off once they replaced desktops.

A smart watch will only work once it replaces a smart phone. Given that the smart phone trend has been to larger screens etc,, it is hard to see how all that can be squished into a watch form factor.

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The music is the message

I note that the sound track "music" consisted of one bar repeated. There was no harmony, let alone harmonic development - not even a turnaround. There was no melody, and no counterpoint. That is about as empty as it gets. Parapraxis or just plain out of ideas? Either way, I get the message.

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Pensées

Presumed consent for organ donation.

Google hosted medical records.

NHS care.data scheme.

Health and fitness centric, cloud connected wearable computing devices.

Put all of those ideas together and I've never felt more like an item of livestock in my life.

Just fill the skies with drones to effect a quick recovery when the wearable in your hand starts blinking.

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