Wearable computing is the next big thing. It makes sense, despite the many hurdles, not least being battery technology. The obvious place for a small computer is on your person, not in a bag, not even in a pocket. In many respects the wrist is the ideal location for a tiny computer. For one thing, wrist watches are universal and wearing a miniature computer would not raise any eyebrows nor would it lead to prohibition.
Last year I tested the Citizen Proximity watch which turned out to be little more than a gimmick. The Pebble, on the other hand, is perfectly viable as a convenient monitor for the iPhone. A sturdy vibration for alerts and clear rendering of messages and reminders make the Pebble a rather endearing little device. As far as it goes. I sold mine because I still want to wear my proper mechanical watch and I am not sure whether I could completely give up on that in the interests of technological perfection. In this, though, I am totally in the minority and even I could be won over with a good, attractive design.
Recently we have heard much of Google Glass and I’ve read many reviews of Glass in action. The general feeling is that the public is not yet ready for the idea of people wandering around with a small computer and screen, not to mention a camera, built into a glasses frame. I can foresee tremendous public resistance, particularly in Britain where we have a peculiarly puritan view of mobile technology at the best of times. Already the Department for Transport is working on banning the wearing of Glass by drivers and, for once, I tend to agree. If using a phone is a distraction, a tiny eye-mounted screen is likely to be even more dangerous.
Which brings me back to watches. Someone in the industry, Apple for instance, has a burning opportunity to develop an attractive and competent bit of wrist-mounted intelligence. So far we have seen monitoring devices which work with smartphones; soon, I suspect, we will see miniaturised wrist phones. This is what I hope Apple is working on with the iWatch.
These days I carry around two iOS devices: An iPad mini and my iPhone which is essential for the odd phone call (all my calls are odd in the sense of being very few and far between) and for texts to contacts who are not linked to Messages. For the rest, I could happily live without a phone. To have a call-capable device shrunk down to my wrist, used purely for reminders, incoming texts and occasional phone calls is an enticing prospect. For writing, planning, browsing and emailing I prefer a larger device, not necessarily as big as an iPad mini, but certainly larger than the current iPhone 5. I could settle for a wrist device and a ‘tweener iPhone/iPad in my pocket.
Rumours of the impending iWatch have been around for over a year and I suspect Apple must be working on something that fits the description. If the newcomer is merely an appendage, a Pebble-like slave to an iPhone, I shall be disappointed. Good design will sell it, of course, but a big opportunity will have been lost. If, on the other hand, the iWatch is a device that makes and receives voice calls or, even, handles video chat, it will definitely be a hit. Apple will have The Next Big Thing. Sooner or later such a device will come, battery technology notwithstanding. It is just a question of whether it will come first from Apple.