The State of Wearable Technology

I own a smart watch, and I’m not ashamed of it. I proudly tell people that my Pebble was probably one of my best purchasing decisions as of late. Or at the very least better than sniping Citadel/Marauder Warhammer miniatures from 80’s on eBay. Granted, it is more or less a novelty gadget that is limited both by it’s lo-fi design, and (in my case) the iOS app sand-boxing model which restricts how companion phone apps can interact with the device. Still, being able to glance on my wrist to read text messages, emails and incoming tweets or to squelch a phone call with a wrist-watch button is really neat. The recently opened Pebble App-Store has dozens of nifty (and not so nifty) little applications that push the functionality of the device to it’s limits, but the killer app for me is the Authenticator which implements the HMAC based OTP protocol, turning my watch into a secondary a 2-Factor Authentication device.

You could say I’ve been sold on the concept of wearable tech, but that wouldn’t necessarily be true. I’ve been ready for this technology for decades now, patiently awaiting its release. When Google announced Glass back in 2012 I got so excited I could barely contain myself. I signed up for the explorer program as soon as I was able to (read as soon as I got around to it, after procrastinating for about a year, as you do). Recently, I finally got Google’s blessing to buy one of these devices, which promptly resulted in me doing this for about 6 hours:

Yeah, that’s me repeatedly adding and removing Glass from the shopping cart only to close the tab, and immediately reopen it 15 minutes later. Pebble was not cheep, but perfectly affordable, and definitely worth the money. Glass, is exuberantly expensive and I’m not sure if it actually delivers $1,500 worth of functionality at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong, having a real life HUD has been my dream ever since I have seen the original Terminator movie in the 80’s. There is nothing I want more than to have the internet beamed directly into my eyeballs. But… I don’t think I can justify paying so much money for what appears to be a glorified prototype built from off-the-shelf hardware components that cost no more than $150 to manufacture. Not only that, but with such a daunting price tag, Glass is neither a status symbol, nor a fashion statement. In fact it is directly the opposite.

Glasshole

Glasshole

Glass isn’t even out of the open beta phase, and is still not publicly available for purchase without a signup and an invite. And yet, we already have an insulting slur that has been coined to describe some of the early adopters. Sure, in the past we have given the enthusiasts of large, blinking Bluetooth headsets a hard time for wearing them all day, but there is no special name for them in the common parlance. But if you wear Glass, you’re a Glasshole. You have to admit, this is pretty bad PR.

The reason why Glasshole is a thing that caught on doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the technology itself. You could argue that it is actually has more to do with the American economy, fading of the middle class and the growing wealth inequality in our society. The term has been said to originate in the San Fran area where the “new technology elite” are rubbing elbows with lower middle class urban residents. The close proximity makes wealth disparity between the two groups really evident. Lower income residents residents of the area feel getting pushed out and priced out of their own neighborhoods by the affluent newcomers. The smug, young and rich tech-yuppies who have enough disposable income to pay $20 for a latte and $1500 for a pair of gaudy, ostentatious camera goggles don’t always have enough empathy or social awareness not to be absolute jerks about their privileged status.

It is interesting how Google’s decision to beta test the devices with “developers” and marketing them as high-end, luxury accessories it might have contributed to their quickly declining reputation. As a member of this community, I can attest to the fact that we do have a very high concentration of massive douchebags in our industry. What’s worse, our douchebags tend to be at least superficially smart, which makes them all the more insufferable. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have definitely acted like a smug, privileged asshole at many occasions, so it’s not like I’m the shining beacon of virtue here.

You could argue that expensive smart-phones are just as much of status and privilege symbols, but you don’t wear those on your face. They are easy to put away, and that’s exactly what people are expected to do with them when they are not in use. Over the years we have developed a camera-phone and smart-phone etiquette and people know what is and is not acceptable to do with their phone in public. Glass has a front-facing camera that could be used to covertly record live-stream over the internet which does make people uncomfortable. We do need to develop Glass based etiquette like we did for phones if we want them to become more acceptable and less threatening.

Also, high-end phones are actually much more accessible than Glass, even at low income levels due to the fact that phone carriers are willing to swallow 80-90% of their price just to lock you into a multi-year contract. It’s hard to hold owning an iPhone against someone if you can get your own for free or almost free (by merely signing away your first born to the phone company). It stands to reason that Google could potentially mitigate the bad reputation Glass has been gaining by drastically reducing the price and making it available to general public. Which is what I hope happens soon. Because I really want a pair.

But what else is there in terms of wearable technology? At the moment, not all that much. One area I’ve been interested in is biometric tracking. When I embarked on my body hacking project one of my biggest challenges was figuring out what was my optimal calorie input/output ratio. It infuriated me to no end that I had to make wild guestimations about how much energy I was burning every day. If I was doing it today, I would have simply got a FlitBit wristband and have actual concrete data to work with.

I have managed to improve my lifestyle and change my habits to the point I no longer need to spreadsheet my calorie intake, so I don’t really have a need for such a device now. In fact, I think owning a glorified pedometer like FlitBit Flex, Jawbone Up or Nike Fuel would probably just make me feel guilty about all the exercising I’m not doing.

Rule #1

Cardio is very important.

I kinda wish these biometric tracking devices did more. A wristband should in theory be able to measure not only the number of steps you take every day, but also things like your body temperature, heart rate (by measuring pulse, even if inaccurately), galvanic skin response, and more… While devices that do measure your vital signs do exist, most of them are marketed as medical devices. There aren’t many affordable, and hassle-free options for people who just want to monitor their body for the sake of monitoring. If I go to a doctor, and he asks me if I was running a fever I could pull up my phone and look at my body temperature variance over the last month or so. Granted, this might just be a problem that’s unique to me because the only thermometer I own shows temperature in Celsius and is technically supposed to be used in a lab, and not on your body.

I wish there was a FlitBit that would measure both activity and vital signs, but there isn’t any. The closest you could get is probably the Angel Sensor which is still in development, and looks really bulky and expensive. It’s probably an overkill for something I don’t need, but would be nice to have because it would be exactly like that one augment from Cyberpunk 2020.

Do you own any wearable tech? What is good out there? What are you excited for? What is your opinion on Glass? Will you be getting if if the price drops?

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6 Responses to The State of Wearable Technology

  1. astine Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Workout heart rate monitors have existed for a while now. They’re not intended to be worn around, but you could and they’re not *that* expensive.

    And if you’re just looking for wearable tech for the sake of wearable tech, well then: http://www.instructables.com/id/LED-Jacket/

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  2. Google Glass is now in a more “open beta” phase and anyone can buy the glasses until further notice.

    That said, I am on eBay looking for used glasses and will pay no more than $1000 thats about how much they are worth to me

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  3. One of the things that concern me besides availability of this tech is control. I’m starting to get increasingly paranoid about who controls my tech. While I really want Glass-like wearable tech too, I also want something that’s acceptably hackable. I already run my own VPS for most computation-related things and I’m considering putting Cyanogenmod on my Nexus phone.

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  4. i had a smartwatch (metawatch frame) for half a year now, until it broke last week.
    It was horrible.

    My idea was to use it as a bike computer. All it should do was to tell me how fast i move. My Phone knows this already, since i use it to log my routes anyway.

    The hardware was ok, i don’t need much but a display that can be filled by Bluetooth. Even the battery was ok (3 to 10 days, depending on how you use it). The display was readable (not E-Ink, but ok) in bright light and dark rooms (unless you are in a room with white walls/ceiling, because then the contrast between white/reflection is nearly zero)

    But the software just sucked. It claims to come fully open source, but there’s only a really crappy old version where you can read the code (full of bugs) and a “new” version (as in nearly 2 years old) that has less bugs (i.e. it sets the time on connect) but you can’t change a single thing in this.

    I even tried to create my own little icon displaying my current GPS-Speed for metawatch, but it was unusable due to all these bugs.

    What i would prefer would be more some kind of “minimal HUD” in ordinarily looking sunglasses. It need not do much. Just display 1-2 Words of Text via Bluetooth (i.E. “100km/h”, “13:12:00″ or “3 Mails”).
    It doesn’t even need to have Sensors. My phone has Sensors, i carry it around anyway. (Although i don’t know why a watch shouldn’t be able to measure pulse/temperature, air pressure… it might come in handy)

    But: noone is selling me something like that. I even had the idea of buying something more like a classic bike computer and mounting it to my wrist (there are wireless devices, shouldn’t be a big problem).
    Not even this is something you could buy for less then 300€. -.-

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  5. Victoria UKRAINE Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    A wristband should in theory be able to measure not only the number of steps you take every day, but also things like your body temperature, heart rate (by measuring pulse, even if inaccurately), galvanic skin response, and more…

    Basis Band does exactly that. Still I have issues with it – can’t wear it non-stop as supposed to, because it gives me rash. And I am on my second one, because first one just started glitching for no reason.

    What I want is a bracelet (not a watch, I like ‘watch’ watches), that could do all the above AND also vibrate/signal that I am getting a call on my phone that’s in my handbag where I can’t hear it at all.

    There are things I would like to have that could be solved by some future version of Glass – like showing me which direction to go (still depends on maps) and the distance to objects (which, I think, is either impossible or very inaccurate?) but I don’t want it to mess with my already poor eyesight :)

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  6. I bought a jawbone and wore it for a few months. It was a terrible experience. It didn’t even look cool and it felt weird.

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