When will wearables be wearable?

The growth of wearables is increasing but, it's unclear whether they'll become the next "smart" platform, as was discussed during a panel event hosted by the MIT/Stanford Venture Lab.

A couple years ago, while out enjoying a bike ride, Walt Froloff became increasingly annoyed that his cell phone kept slipping out of its holster.

Hands-free mobile Golden-i headset on display during the VLAB event. Rafe Needleman/CNET

By the time he got home he decided to fashion an accessory that would allow him to attach his phone to his wrist. Now, he is president of a startup that makes just that--WristOffice.

"This was born from frustration, anger and disbelief," Froloff said. "The future can't be you holding something in your hand trying to find things."

Froloff's WristOffice was one of several wearable devices showcased Tuesday at a MIT/Stanford Venture Lab (VLAB) event focused on the future of wearables at Stanford University. And WristOffice was markedly low-tech compared with some of the other items on display, which included the Allerta InPulse smart watch that works on BlackBerry, Meta Watch that uses Bluetooth, the Android-powered WIMM One smart watch, and Recon Mod Live , which is basically a computer embedded into ski goggles.

If CES was any gauge, the growth of wearables is on the up and up. At the tradeshow, there were wearable technology jackets , disposable health monitors , sleek watches and even a TV . Reportedly, Apple is getting into the game too by working on some sort of wearable technology that would send data to an iPhone or iPod.

The VLAB panel was the most well attended events in the history of the organization, with more than 500 audience members. The panel discussion, moderated by CNET's own Rafe Needleman, included input from Dan Eisenhardt, the CEO of Recon Instruments; Tim Twerdahl, the VP of Product for WIMM; Bill Geiser, the CEO of MetaWatch; and Rich Redelfs from the General Partner Foundation Capital.

Fred Stein, the event chair for VLAB, says he started looking into wearables several months ago and realized that dozens of companies had started to make them--from giant global companies like Sony Ericsson and Motorola to smaller startups like WIMM and Recon. "You have the same kind of innovation as with Web 2.0," he said.

Dan Eisenhardt of Recon Instruments echoed this sentiment during the panel discussion. "We are claiming a new piece of real estate," he said. "If you look at a road map, we are heading towards mass market."

However, wearables do come with their challenges as other panelists pointed out, such as short battery life, high prices, delicate and ugly. Bill Geiser, who is CEO of MetaWatch, a spin-off of Fossil, said that in order for smart watches to sell they have to look good. "Watches aren't utilitarian time pieces, we are buying a fashion accessory," he said. "If we do our job well [making a good smart watch] you'll pull your phone out half as many times as you do today."

Maybe more investment is needed to forge the way? "We haven't invested in anything yet," Rich Redelfs, of General Partner Foundation Capital, said during the panel discussion. "I'm going to carry this cell phone around until I can put some of that functionality onto my wrist."

 

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