At Taiwan's Computex, unwearable wearables

Computex 2014 promised a slew of wearable gadgets, but CNET's Nic Healey was unimpressed by the copycat offerings.

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The SiMEye head-mounted display. Remind you of anything? Nic Healey/CNET

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- At the start of Computex I wrote about the changing face of the trade show and, in particular, the fact that 49 exhibitors were set to show wearable tech this year.

I didn't count the actual number I ended up checking out -- there are two main exhibition areas at Computex, quite some distance apart and spread over multiple halls and floors. There could have been 49 exhibitors, there could have been 149 -- I'll just say there were certainly a lot.

But quantity is not quality, and that truism certainly felt particularly apt here in Taipei. With a few notable exceptions, much of what I saw failed to impress -- even someone as excited by the potential of wearable technology as I am.

Now, I'm not suggesting that everything on display was poor of quality or shoddily made -- though there was some of that -- just that I wasn't witness to a great deal of innovation.

Overwhelmingly, what I saw on display were merely variations on the same themes we've seen before: wrist-mounted fitness trackers, smartwatches, head-mounted smartglasses.

The SiMEye smartglass display you see pictured atop this article was found in an area dedicated to design award finalists and winners. It's quite clearly gathering a lot of what we'll charitably call inspiration from Google Glass.

I'm not convinced head-mounted smartware is really the way to go -- it can still be problematic for spectacle-wearers like myself, and the SiMEye gadget was no exception. But if you want to push ahead with smartglasses, let's at least try to refine and reinvent, not imitate.

And though I love and use fitness trackers regularly, they've almost become de riguer for manufacturers, as if they were just on some checklist and not a product that's being carefully constructed.

When compared with the incredible levels of innovation and invention to be seen around the rest of the show -- particularly, in my opinion, around 2-in-1 or hybrid devices -- the wearables felt lacklustre in the extreme.

I know it's early days for this particular market, but that's why we shouldn't be complacent, or see wearables as token devices that are used to just fill space in a product lineup.

In his keynote speech, Microsoft's Nick Parker talked about the age of ubiquitous computing, and the "devices we carry on us, as opposed to with us." We might be heading to a post-PC time, but computing will remain even more personal than ever -- isn't it time we got excited about that next step?

 

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