Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Invasion of the body snatchers: wearable devices are coming for you

Martyn Williams | March 31, 2014
Privacy and form factor are some of the big questions for this emerging category.

The Second Wave
Fitbit followed up with additional products. Its latest, the $130 Fitbit Force, is a wristband-type device with a small digital display. It's still based on the concept of step-counting, but the app extrapolates additional data including distance traveled, minutes of activity and calories burned. An altimeter estimates the number of steps climbed. If users keep it on while they sleep, it will even attempt to measure sleep quality.

Jawbone, a San Francisco-based speaker and headphone maker, sells the Up 24, a $150 wristband "lifestyle tracker" that works with an iPhone app. An accelerometer measures activity based on the number of steps taken each day.

Another popular tracker, the $199 wristwatch-style Basis B1, packs several sensors on the back that keep contact with the skin. These add blood-flow, heart rate and perspiration to the usual measurements taken.

Nike has improved its device and currently sells the Fuelband SE. The $150 wristband tracks an entire day of activity and measures performance against user-defined goals. It's set up through a companion iPhone app.

Not to be left out, Adidas is rivaling Nike with the Smart Run, which is also worn like a wristwatch. It has a color display, versus the monochrome B1, and provides information on workouts, including distance traveled and lap times. An accelerometer measures stride, and the device can link via Bluetooth to an optional heart-rate monitor. It will even play your workout music.

As innocuous as fitness trackers may appear, not everyone is comfortable having their every move, and sleep-wake cycles, uploaded to become yet another form of very personal "big data" stored and potentially used in as yet unforeseen ways by third parties.

Apple on the horizon
In late 2012, news reports surfaced that Apple was developing a smartwatch with Intel. Apple hasn't confirmed that the project even exists, but its success in redefining the portable music and smartphone markets means a lot of attention is focused on the Cupertino company. The speculation was fueled in mid-2013 when news leaked that Apple had hired Jay Blahnik , developer of Nike's Fuelband, to work on its wearables team.

"I think the wrist is interesting," Apple CEO Tim Cook told the All Things D conference last May. "But as I said before, for something to work here you first have to convince people it's so incredible that they want to wear it."

That's what a handful of companies are already trying to do with so-called "smart watches" that connect to Android phones.

Sony's Smartwatch 2 runs dedicated apps that bring Gmail, Twitter and Facebook to the wrist. The device has won praise for good looks, but a constant criticism has been the resolution of the 1.6-inch LCD screen. At 220 by 176 pixels, graphics and text sometimes appear a little jagged. And notifications aren't synched: If a message is read on the watch, it remains unread on the phone.


Previous Page  1  2  3  4  5  Next Page 

Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.