Wearable Technology - Sourcing Intelligence

on Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Our need to be connected to our information at all times didn’t just happen overnight. As business processes have gotten faster, and more data is available in real time, our ability to make business-critical decisions has increased. We are now so overwhelmed with information from all corners of our lives – professional, social, financial – that it’s no wonder we are seeing more new ways to capitalize on that information, and put it right in front of us precisely when it arrives.


I’ve been thinking about this lately because I just purchased a Pebble SmartWatch. It’s a handy little wristwatch, no bigger than a traditional Timex, and it buzzes when I get new messages, emails, and other phone notifications, displaying relevant information on its face. It even allows me to see other information, like the weather, notifications, and my phone’s current battery life, as well as control music and a few other functions without ever having to take my phone out. Because of an open API, people are creating more uses every day. What really got me thinking about it, since I somehow understood the device's intrinsic value to me when I bought it, was when a co-worker asked very plainly if I really felt like I needed to be that close to my information and notifications. Without much thought, I offered back a resounding “yes!”

The Pebble works as a remote control for your smartphone – the device itself doesn’t handle the bulk of the calculations; it only has enough internal thinking power to function as a digital watch. Even the configuration for its two-bit e-paper display is handled by the phone, leading to many criticisms of the smartwatch as not being particularly smart.

Having seen the response and interest in wearable tech, the tech giants are now having their own go at it, with Google, Apple, Samsung, and even Nissan all releasing their own version, and one of the major improvements they’re making is pouring computing power into the tiny wrist-mounted screen. The first of these to come out, Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, has been held up to mixed reviews, with people complaining that the native processing and OS are clunky and unintuitive. My question is: is this really the way to go?

Certainly there’s some novelty in the “ubiquitous computing” future, and hiccups and birthing pains for newer-than-new technology are to be expected as we learn what is really required of new types of devices, but is it efficient and feasible to have everything with a screen packed with processing power, or would it be better to move towards thinner, lighter clients with enhanced connectivity?

Think about it this way: I use Google Play Music to store my music in Google’s cloud, which I stream to my phone, the information about which is displayed and managed on my watch. So when I push the “next” button on my watch, it sends a signal via Bluetooth to my phone to send a signal to Google’s server to move to the next song. For sourcing people, the first impression of that line is bound to be that it’s incredibly long, and inefficient. What if I just kept my music on my watch, the object that’s most accessible all the time, and played it from there? And that’s where the hidden costs come in. At $149.99, Pebble is able to produce something that is robust yet simple and uses the processing power of a host. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear is expected to retail at around $300, twice the cost, and only a few more capabilities. When you start outfitting every piece of technology with a processor, file system, and other hardware components to make it more powerful, you increase costs across the board.

It’s analogous to the emergence of more electric and hybrid cars. Concerns about them not actually appreciably mitigating emissions since they still require a connection to a potentially polluting electrical plant were quelled when the relative efficiency of that one centralized coal plant was weighed against that of a million individual power generators represented by the individual cars on the road. As long as you have reliable and efficient conveyance methods for that energy, centralizing the process proved more beneficial overall.

The tech industry is experimenting with wearable technology more and more, and Google’s Glass is proof that they are willing to make real investments into continued R&D. It’s certainly fun to imagine that this will eventually lead to neuro-silical integration on a reliable scale and that one day we’ll be offered contact lenses capable of giving us an augmented reality view of our surroundings, but the focus for us will continue to be where the investments in computing power are being made, whether locally in each device, or hosting those capabilities in a centralized server farm, it will have big implications for the way we all use computers.

If it were up to me, I would bank on thin clients as the future of personal and business computing. Massive investments in server farms have shown huge economies of scale created for companies that choose to move their computing into the cloud, and managing those systems, whether or not they are hosted, has only gotten easier. With more wearable technology on the way, we can see supply chains for information lengthen, but with the speed of the connections between our technology keeping pace with processing power, we will have more access to this information than ever before.

7 comments:

Unknown said...

"the device itself doesn’t handle any of the calculations. Even the processing for its two-bit e-paper display is handled by the phone, leading to many criticisms of the smartwatch as not being particularly smart." This is just plain wrong. It works perfectly fine as a watch and with any stand-alone apps.

Anonymous said...

If you look at the specs for the Pebble, it's actually got more processing power and RAM than the original Macintosh. While it's true that the Mac had slightly better screen resolution, the Pebble is actually a fairly impressive computer.

One issue I have is that the Pebble folks seem a little too fixated on watch apps (you get five out of the box and you see them all the time, and they artificially limit each add-on to 25k of space, rather than letting the user choose to install a single much larger app). Add to that an artificially small size limit on individual messages between the smart phone and the Pebble and you have some "first generation" limits that I hope are lifted as the software is upgraded over the coming months.

Having said that, the dev community is responding in some clever ways. the Tempus Fugit app has its own process scheduler, which lets you run up to four features at the same time. This means you can have a stopwatch, a countdown timer, a "meeting cost calculator" and an embedded watchface all going at the same time. I suspect we're going to see more of this sort of thing as the programmers start to feel their oats.

In other words, this is quite a powerful hardware platform and once folks have had a chance to figure out what to do with it I suspect we're going to see some pretty amazing stuff. It's just going to take a little time for us all to get used to having this much power within plain sight!

Mentifex said...

"neuro-silical integration" is a cool phrase.

Anonymous said...

Until they can put the smartphone, gigs of memory, and a tiny long-lasting battery in a smartwatch, I will be using a Casio.

Norm Hull said...

I was an early adopter off Kickstarter but ultimately had to return my watch. No matter what I did, I could not get it to sync to my StarTac.

How great is this marvel of technology, with its "neruo-silical integrations", if it doesn't work with legacy devices??

Yagnesh said...

Subcutaneous fat ( a fatty layer of tissue that sits beneath the skin )is a storage vessel for extra calories. Belly fat plays an active role in body releasing hormones ( chemicals that direct many processes within the body ) and other substances. Belly fat release a hormones which kick the body’s stress response into action, which raises blood pressure, blood sugar and the risk of heart disease. High blood pressure later on causes a stroke.

Hormones make it difficult for the body to process insulin, that controls blood sugar. People with lots of belly fat have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Hormones increases the risk of certain cancer like colorectal and breast cancer.

Belly fat dumps fat into the bloodstream, where it travels straight to the liver. Liver is in charge of making “good” cholesterol and “ bad” cholesterol. Now when liver is surrounded by extra fat from the abdomen, it makes more kind of bad cholesterol and less good one.

Belly fat affects the brain. Some of the chemicals belly fat secretes cause inflammation, which can increase your risk of dementia and depression. Abdominal fat is the main culprit of many health problem. Belly fat has more bearing on the health than the body mass index (BMI), a more traditional measure.

BMI tells you whether you are overweight, at a normal weight or underweight for your height, but it does not tell you where the extra pounds – fat –are located on the body. Conclusion is that a larger waistline is a threat to the health – whether or not the scale says you are ok.

-Yagnesh Out!

Siddharth Shrotriya said...

The biggest issue with Samsung is, It is always worried about the specs and not functionality and the use experience. Consumers dont want useless complicated features, they prefer simple stuff

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