There has been a great deal of buzz around wearable electronic solutions over the past year. The craze started with fitness accessories and has continued with mini computers like Google Glass.
The dream of wearable computers, however, is nothing new. The U.S. military has been developing solutions for the past 20 years, but one would need to lug around a backpack for most of these gadgets.
Now, the U.S. military is using iPhones. Because of advancements in technology, today's solutions are considerably different and closer to the devices depicted in science fiction movies. Advancements in semiconductor design and manufacturing technology have continued to increase performance while shrinking the size and power requirements of all semiconductor components, advanced display technology have enabled a rich user experience, and communications and server technology have created a connected world with endless possibilities.
So, why aren't wearable computers a reality today? If we can cram a computer into a handset or tablet, shouldn't we be able to reduce it down to the size of a watch or ear piece?
Unfortunately, we still face limitations in technology—none more than battery technology, which has been limited to incremental improvements in capacity at best. Even with semiconductor technology, cramming a processor, GPU, memory, I/O, and communications technology into a single chip is still no easy feat. New technologies like die stacking technology with through silicon vias (TSVs) should allow the industry to achieve this level of integration within the next three to five years.
The displays have also been rather bulky and power hogs, but new flexible display technology combined with pico projectors and wireless display interfaces will overcome not only limitations size and power, but also overcome the need for large displays. Overall, it would seem that the industry is on the right track to finally enable wearable computers.
However, these solutions must be computers, not electronic peripherals or gadgets, and offer all the functionality and performance that we expect out of other computing solutions like smartphones, tablets, and PCs with the added benefit of increased flexibility. And, they likely will have to be on par or even less expensive than the existing solutions to be attractive to the masses.
Although way out of the required price range at $1,500, Google Glass is still the closest solution today, but there are still a few key components missing, particularly the connectivity. This is the biggest drawback of all the wearable electronic solutions today, they have to be connected or tethered to other devices for network connectivity.