Even if most of the usual suspects have yet to tip their hands, this much is abundantly clear: Wearable computing is becoming a lot more than just Google Glass.
"In the very near future, wearable computers will be the dominant technology we all use." So says Steve Mann, a wearable computing researcher and nowadays the chief scientist at Meta. Maybe and maybe not -- but he's talking about one of the hottest topics in techdom; if it's not on the cusp of entering the mainstream, wearable computing is getting awfully close.
Google has received the lion's share of the attention so far, though there are myriad other entrants, some big, some small. (Wearable tech was a big theme at January's Consumer Electronics Show, especially as it related to wearable fitness devices.)
We haven't yet seen anything out of Apple, Microsoft, or Samsung, though these heavyweights are all dark horse candidates to get in on the action before long. (During his appearance at an industry conference sponsored by AllThingsD last week, Cook described wearable computing as profoundly interesting.
Perhaps more than any other of its myriad skunkworks, Google's Project Glass has fired imaginations about the prospects and the perils of wearable computing. For now, this remains the proverbial work in progress as Google Glass is only available to a few thousand developers and costs of $1,500. But these are early days and a lower-priced, commercial version is expected in the first half of next year. Meanwhile, a couple of big Silicon Valley venture outfits -- Kleiner Perkins Andreessen Horowitz -- have teamed with Google Ventures to create an investment group known as the the Glass Collective, which will offer seed money to Glass startups and presumably create the sorts of cool apps that will eventually convince consumers to plunk down their credit cards and buy a pair.
Atheer's Allen Yang demonstrates prototype glasses that create a digital layer in space. Wired called it augmented reality on steroids. What we're talking about is a 3D augmented reality platform that will work on top of Android (while other mobile operating systems may follow down the road.) Cue "Minority Report," as the company aims at bringing gesture-based controls into the mainstream. You can read more here about Atheer, which talked publicly about its work for the first time.
The Telepathy One out of Japan also features an onboard camera, heads-up display, and communications functionality. But this is not exactly a Google Glass competitor, at least not yet. In fact, the device's creator said as much when he was on hand recently to introduce prototypes of the wearable image-streaming glasses to American journalists. "I don't think Google is my enemy," entrepreneur Takahito Iguchi said. "I would like to shake hands and create a new industry with them."
Memoto, a 1 inch square life-blogging cam, clips onto your collar or jacket and takes photos at 30 second intervals as you stroll about. The accompanying app will organize the images into a timeline and tag them with the appropriate GPS data. The Swedish company developed the device got a lot of attention last year when it sought to raise $50,000 on Kickstarter -- only to pull in ten times that much. It's now raked in nearly $1 million through Kickstarter and from European investors. Forget for now the obvious privacy and etiquette questions -- "Hey, who said you could photograph me in my bathrobe?" -- as Memoto is staking a claim to the nascent market in automatic lifelogging devices.
It sprang from a Columbia University project. Now, using a Kickstarter campaign to raise money,Meta is trying to invent a pair of augmented reality goggles which will enter 3D space and even let someone use their hands to interact with the virtual world.
Coming this summer, the Vuzix M100 Smart Glasses will be available on Android (and later, iOS). The company's wearable Bluetooth/Wi-Fi headpiece features a built-in HD camera and a floating eyepiece display. No price yet, though we should hear more about this shortly. And if you're impressed by these sorts of things, Vuzix's device did win a CES Innovations 2013 award.
The Fitbit Flex, the latest offering in the company's line of personal fitness trackers, tracks how many steps you have taken, featuring an LED screen which displays the progress you've logged in meeting your daily goals. It syncs data wirelessly with PCs and Macs and can communicate with iPhones as well as some Android smartphones.
When a mega-sized company gets involved in a new market, it's time to pay attention. The company first pushed into consumer electronics in 2006 when it introduced a sensor that runners could put into their shoes to track performance. Now meet Nike’s latest hi-tech, wearable exercise gadget: The FuelBand, which lets users glean information about the number of steps they take or the amount of calories burned.
Withings Smart Activity Tracker features a heart sensor in addition to the usual pedometer-related functions, such as monitoring calories burned or stairs climbed and steps taken. The device will sync wirelessly to both iPhones and Android smartphones as well as via Bluetooth. The company also sells a Smart Body Analyzer which, in addition to monitoring your heart, will compute your fat level.
Although it lacks the Flex's wireless syncing abilities, the Up's battery lasts longer between charges. It also can record steps, calories burned, and how well someone sleeps. Designed to be worn round-the-clock, the device is marketed as an electronic accoutrement that integrates into your daily routine. It syncs with iPhones and some Android devices, displaying data about someone's daily activity on their smartphone screens.
Designed with hard-core fitness fanatics in mind, the Armour39 is too cumbersome to wear all day with a strap that fits under your shirt and wraps around your torso. The device measures heart rate, intensity and calories burned; it also measures how hard you worked out. For the time being, the Armour39 app is only available on iOS.
The Basis Band will track your heart and sleep behavior as well as the number of steps you take and the armount of calories burned. It integrates relevant biometric data to present the user with a picture of her health -- then recommend healthy habit badges which you unlock through measured behavior. Data gets displayed on an Android app (an iPhone app is on the way).