After several waves of wearable technology over the years, many of us feel we've seen enough of wrist watches, wrist bands, wrist this, and wrist that. Nevertheless, this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is showcasing a whole new generation of wearables you have to strap on to your wrist.
Whether the device is designed for fitness tracking, for health monitoring, or simply to control certain smartphone functions remotely, the wrist seems to be the default body part for mounting sensors and collecting data while serving as an end node for the Internet of All Flesh.
This observation comes from a conversation I had last month with Robert Thompson, Freescale Semiconductor's i.MX development manager, when it rolled out what it called the industry's first reference design for wearable devices. Thompson said a lot of upcoming wearables are wrist centered. "That doesn't mean everyone is developing smart watches. The wrist happens to be the most convenient place."
Given the long history of bracelets and wrist watches, any device worn around the wrist tends to be unobtrusive. A wrist device doesn't carry the geek stigma of, say, Google Glass. As long as it's lightweight and doesn't give you hives (Fitbit had to recall its fitness tracker after some users developed serious skin irritation), the area between the hand and the elbow is fertile turf for developers to experiment with wearables.
But beyond the look and feel of the individual device, the pivotal elements that separate the wearable from the immediately disposable are their apps and their usefulness. In that respect, I find Sony's Lifelog app, Core (a tiny waterproof sensor designed to slide into various accessories), SmartBand, and Lifelog camera (still in the concept stage) fascinating.
First off, I am glad that someone finally came up with a wristband that functions as more than just a (usually inaccurate) pedometer. More important, Sony, which often looked paralyzed by the its revenue decline and a lack of focus and strategy, got up off the mat for the first time with a coherent plan to pursue the sensing application market. The Japanese company appears to be leveraging every property it owns -- from smartphones to entertainment and sensors -- for this platform.
In essence, Sony's Lifelog Android app is designed to record a user's physical, social, and entertainment activities.
The company's press release explains: "Together with SmartBand, the Android app enables you to effortlessly capture life and entertainment -- places visited, music listened to, games played, books read -- and presents it a beautifully visual interface."
Technically, the SmartBand is designed to talk to the Lifelog app and a user's Android smartphone via Bluetooth and NFC. When it's out of range (up to 10 m) from the smartphone, a vibrating alert prompts the user. The SmartBand also measures sleep cycles and does wakeup calls. When calls, messages, Facebook Likes, or tweets are received, the SmartBand vibrates. The band can also be used to play, pause, and skip tracks in a Walkman app.
The Lifelog camera, though still a concept tied to a smartphone, will enable a user to record specific moments of the day automatically and upload them to a personal feed.