The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is where all the world’s technology innovators come together to showcase their latest projects, trying to interest buyers and investors from all over the globe. A few weeks ago all the cutting edge gadgets and apps got revealed to a waiting world of geeks and gawkers, ready to marvel at some of the most far-out and exciting new shiny things on offer.
Many of the projects unveiled at events like this, and similarly the Mobile World Congress in our very own Barcelona last month, can at first glance appear pretty niche in their appeal. Sometimes you look at a new idea and it’s quite hard to imagine it cracking the mainstream and becoming the next big thing, which is of course what all the developers are hoping for when they launch their wares. But looking at them together it is interesting to note overall trends, which way investment in new technology is heading, and where demand seems to be leading. Because this year’s CES and MWC is next year’s Christmas gift hot ticket- or so the developers hope.
Unsurprisingly, a huge focus at both events this year was wearable technology. This ranges from health and fitness trackers, to things like Google Glass, and a new category of ‘smart watches’ – which mostly seem to work via Bluetooth connection to a smartphone, bringing alerts and notifications to your wrist via a rather StarTrek-esque and retro-looking thing, that also tells the time.
Personally even the more stylish new Pebble Steel is way too big and chunky for my tastes, quite masculine in styling and rather reminds me of 1980s digital watches – in appearance I mean, the functionality is rather more impressive, although the current generation of them all depend on being in reach of the smartphone that is the real brains of the operation. Perhaps they will appeal to me more when they get smaller and more elegant in design.
The quantified self movement has gained tremendous momentum amongst growing numbers of aficionados in recent years, as the devices emerge which enable us to track every aspect of our lives – locations, distance, steps walked, fat burned, calories consumed, heart rate, metabolism… Even your quality and quantity of sleep can be measured. The tools to do this get ever more small and discreet, whilst simultaneously more powerful and effective.
I am no QS geek particularly, but I do know that whenever I feel an urge to ramp up my activity levels I can often kid myself into doing so by investing in a shiny new gadget, designed to set myself targets and attempt to benchmark what I am doing against my own previous efforts. Obviously the expense of the gadget in question acts as shaming leverage in terms of forcing myself to exercise, it’s rather like forking out for a gym membership.
This year I have been mainly experimenting with various fitness and tracking apps on my iPhone, because the new motion sensors in the 5s have made it much easier to collect data via the thing I am already carrying anyway, rather than having a new item to carry about – much cheaper too than an additional thing, though this obviously works counter to the guilt-trip leverage I previously counted on. My other half does all the tracking he needs to via his Pebble Smartwatch, and finds it much easier to look at his wrist than his phone whilst on a bike ride or hike.
My FitBit One and I went through many a jolly power walk and mountain hike together last year, but then I stupidly drowned it – for me a good wearable health tracker needs to be waterproof. I accidentally took mine for a swim but I’ve heard from other people whose Fitbit murder weapon of choice was the washing machine – part of the problem is the way these trackers have got to be so discreet and tiny, its very easy to forget the damn thing is clipped to your bra or whatever at the end of the day.
One new trend in wearable tech that has been emergent over the past couple years is wrist-worn trackables like the Nike Fuel Band, and the Fitbit Flex. Personally these haven’t appealed so much as it is so many years since I wore a watch (probably since my first smart phone), that I don’t like the thought of something on my wrist – not least as my wrists spend so much of the day resting on or banging against a keyboard, so I am sure it would just get on my nerves. Some of them seem very chunky and uncomfortable looking, the Jawbone Up seems like the worst of them – if I had that clattering around my arm I would just take it off and leave it somewhere, rather defeating the point of its continual tracking idea.
Fitbit did launch a lower-profile wrist tracker at the end of last year, the Fitbit Force – I was wondering about that and whether it was a justifiable investment (in the name of providing a good reviewing service to Costa Connected readers, naturally) but a couple of weeks ago they voluntarily recalled the entire stock, after a small percentage of users reported skin rashes – possibly caused by the use of a nickel alloy in some of the connections. Contact dermatitis by the sound of things, but obviously for something to be worn the whole time, as well as not annoying you it has to also not cause blisters and rashes as well.
But what’s coming next in wearable tech? Let’s take a look at that next week!
Costa Connected, for Costa Blanca News, March 7th 2014 ©Maya Middlemiss, Casslar Consulting SL