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The Year in Wearables

By / December 13, 2013 /
2013 was a big year for wearables

2013 was a big year for wearables

When I think of wearable devices, fitness devices like Fitbit, FuelBand, and Jawbone UP come to mind first. Then cameras, like Narrative Clip, and whatever category Google Glass fits in. Then medical devices like MC10’s tattoo-like wearable sensors, which I still think are totally cool. Then smartwatches. There’s a lot of other stuff being developed on the fringes of the wearable marketplace that won’t see the widespread acceptance of these other devices (smartwatches excepted) but still deserves a look. Maybe.

Run-n-read sounds promising, but as someone who gets sick on any VR ride, I’m really skeptical. The concept is great. It involves a sensor and an e-reader app. When the sensor moves, the text on the e-reader moves, so if you’re running, the text will move up and down at the same rate as your eyes, keeping the text and your eyes on the same plane. Again, it sounds cool, but I get a headache and nausea just thinking about it.

How about an as-yet-unnamed wearable GPS device that directs you by stimulating your skin. Instead of hearing Mr. T say, “Turn right, fool!” you’ll get a tingle on your right side. A must-have for Spiderman fans, I think, though it’s current design looks a bit unwieldy.

I’m on the fence about the Embrace+ bracelet. It’s a bracelet that lights up and vibrates to let you know what’s going on with your smartphone. You could set it to blink green, for example, if your spouse calls. Turn steadily yellow when someone posts to your Facebook page. Vibrate when your best friend texts you. You get the idea. In theory, this could stop people from looking at their phone every time it vibrates, and that would be a plus. However, if someone has it set to blink blue when they get a tweet, red when their battery’s low, orange when they get an email, etc., that’s going to be pretty damn distracting for everyone around them.

So I’m not saying much (well, nothing that’s not snarky, anyway) about smartwatches. They haven’t really caught on yet, in part because their small screens are not that friendly, especially to those of us with fat fingers. Well, the folks at Chirp Microsystems are developing a low-power solution that might actually make the tiny screens of smartwatches less of a hindrance. It’s called the Ultrasonic Gesture Recognizer. Think of it as a theramin for devices – it allows touch-free interaction. Cool? Duh. And since it draws so little power, it frees up valuable watch real estate for other hardware.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know how skeptical I am about the smart sock. However, I have found a smart sock that seems like a great idea. It’s for babies. The Owlet is a baby monitor that fits on the kid’s foot and measures heart rate, temperature, sleep quality, and movement. For first-time parents, this is now an essential device. It will not stop you from worrying, but it will make your worrying more informed, and this will improve the quality of your sleep. And the fact that it attaches to the baby’s foot means that there’s no movement-sensor pad to roll off of, setting off a horrible movement alarm that will send parents’ hearts to their throat like nothing else will. It only happened to me once, but I remember it quite well. Everything was fine.

One last plug for Shine from me, simply for its visual design – I think it’s the best-looking wearable device of the year. A great merger of organic and tech.

Categories: Accelerometer, Battery Life, Books, Cameras, Children, Design, Exercise, FitBit, Fitness, Google Glass, GPS, Health, Jawbone, Memoto, Narrative, Phones, Shine, Smart Watch, Smartphone, Smartwatch, Wearable Devices, Wearable Technology