Wearable tech multiplies and goes mainstream at MWC 2014

Whether it's Samsung's Gear gadgets, Sony's SmartBand, or the sci-fi-like Nymi, exciting wearables were in full force at Mobile World Congress.

Wearables were big at MWC 2014 Jason Jenkins/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain -- Smartphones are the traditional draw here at Mobile World Congress, but this year wearable tech products created lots of buzz as well. In fact, many industry heavyweights and electronics giants chose the conference to make significant wearable technology product announcements.

We saw Sony's first foray into activity tracking, the SmartBand, which boasts impressive and insanely detailed life-logging capabilities. Samsung delivered two smart timepieces too, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, and its own fitness band called the Gear Fit.

Chinese phone maker Huawei also threw its hat into the wearable ring, announcing the TalkBand B1. Not satisfied with being your average pedometer, the TalkBand contains a wireless Bluetooth earpiece for conducting hands-free calls. Additionally, Motorola said it has definite plans to sell a smartwatch and HTC made the same pledge.

Yes, from wristbands, to eyewear, to high-tech time-telling gizmos, wearable gear was top of mind at MWC 2014. Here are some of the highlights.

Smartwatches move closer to mainstream
You know the era of the smartwatch has arrived when a massive device maker such as Samsung creates a wearable device. Two at once, however, is nothing other than a complete double-down, an all-in bet on the bright and lucrative future of wearable tech.

With Samsung putting its marketing weight behind the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, you can be sure that more consumers will be talking about smartwatches than ever before. This bold move by Samsung must have spooked its rivals. At MWC Motorola also said it would get back in the smartwatch game, not too surprising since it was one of the pioneers of the category with the Motoactv a few years ago. Add HTC's announced plans to enter the smartwatch fray with its own intention to hawk a wrist-borne product by Christmas of this year and it's easy to see that momentum is growing.

Life tracking and body sensing
Another noticeable trend was biometric and health tracking. Sony rules the roost with its new and scarily aware SmartBand, which goes way beyond standard pedometer functions. When linked to a compatible Android phone, the SmartBand and LifeLog application together record location data, camera activity, and social-media happenings in real time.

The Bionym Nymi made an appearance too, showing capabilities straight out of a sci-fi flick. Measuring your individual heart rhythm, the wristband-shaped Nymi might very well be the ultimate biometric security device. Once it recognizes you, the Nymi acts as a digital vault and password holder. It will also communicate wirelessly with things like electronic door locks and cars to grant access without the need to fumbe for physical keys.

Samsung brought its own health tracker to the MWC table too. Called the Gear Fit, the futuristic product slips around your wrist, features a colorful and curved OLED touch screen, and even sports a heart rate monitor on its underside. And, yes, it tracks steps too.

What's next for wearable technology Plenty, but if MWC 2014 teaches us anything, it's that the wearable-tech train has just started rolling. As the devices get smaller, as well as the circuitry that drives them, we'll no doubt see (or actually not see) more products integrate smart capabilities on the sly.

For example, the WeOn Glasses by startup Ion Eyewear hide an LED light for phone notifications in one of the arms. Likewise, the upcoming Martian Notifier (which I also saw briefly at the show) could be a classically-styled time piece. Its OLED strip of a display, which shows phone alerts when linked to phones over Bluetooth, gives away the Notifier's secret.

That's why one day soon it likely won't be a question of whether you're wearing a piece of smart tech, but whether you're wearing anything that isn't.

 

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