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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.

Clearly, the technology is still at an early stage.

Pebble, a startup, raised several million dollars through a Kickstarter campaign to fund development of its first watch. The $249 gadget combines the functions of a fitness tracker with a music player and app notifications. The screen is lower resolution then Sony's device, at 144 by 168 pixels, and based on e-paper technology, which means longer battery life but limits the display to monochrome. It has the advantage of working with Android as well as iOS phones.

Samsung jumped into the market with its Galaxy Gear range of products. Originally just a smartwatch — that received a muted response from reviewers — the range now consists of two smartwatches and a fitness band.

"There's no question that Samsung, with the Galaxy Gear, wanted to get in there before Apple," said Carolina Milanesi, a director at Kantor World Panel.

Some companies are holding back, she thinks, waiting to see what Apple comes out with rather than competing pro-actively.

"Whatever Apple is going to do, it will change the market," she said.

Apple's product, whatever it may be and whenever it's unveiled, could do a lot to shape the short-term future of the wearables market.

But there's another powerful company with a high-profile product that's also turning heads ... and testing laws.

Google Glass has garnered significant attention, good and bad. The head-mounted display projects information onto a small prism above the user's right eye and has attracted controversy for its ability to record what the wearer is seeing. Privacy advocates charge that this function essentially turns Glass-wearers into mobile surveillance stations.

Wearers, called "explorers" by Google and, more derisively, "glassholes" by some others, can read email, get directions and search the Internet. Google is keen to promote real-life applications, like surgeons using Glass in the operating theater, cyclists getting real-time directions and firefighters using it to see floor plans of buildings as they enter, but Glass appears to be little more than a gimmick for now.

At $1,500, it's also well out of the range of the average consumer, though the price will come down over time.

Perhaps Google's biggest contribution won't turn out to be Glass but Android Wear, a new version of its Android OS for smartwatches and other wearables. Google is working with companies including Fossil, Asus, LG, HTC, Samsung, Intel, Motorola, Mediatek and Qualcomm on smartwatches.

The first product will be here in the summer: Motorola's Moto 360 packages notifications and Google Now features into a fairly stylish device that looks a lot more like a watch than a gadget. Motorola hasn't shared any specific details on timing, pricing or specifications.


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