Wearable devices are one of the main areas of innovation in the mobile space. The challenge: to integrate them into existing mobile ecosystems.
VentureBeat held the sixth edition of its annual mobile conference MobileBeat 2013, on 9-10 July in San Francisco. One of this year’s hottest topics was wearable devices. From smart watches to ‘connected’ contact lenses and Google Glass, these gadgets are aiming to embed technology into our daily lives in an ever more seamless manner. Google Glass for instance lets you take pictures using simple voice recognition, instead of having to take out your mobile phone. Many are now asking if wearables are about to replace our smartphones. Not for the moment, stressed panelist Gary Clayton, Chief Creative Officer at Nuance Communications. Jef Holove, CEO of Basis Point, which makes smart watches, agreed: “On the contrary, I would say that smartphones are in fact becoming more and more central,” he underlined.
Smartphones central to the whole ecosystem
Quantified-self Basis watch, for example, measures skin humidity, sleep patterns, physical activity, etc. It’s a sophisticated device capable of collecting precise, high-quality data. Nevertheless, it is still “via the mobile device that the data is sent to the Cloud, and it’s on their mobile devices that users interact with the data” gathered using the watch, the Basis CEO pointed out. Similarly, a Jawbone or NikeFuel Band cannot function without a smartphone; the mobile device is needed to process data and send it to the cloud. Still, even if they probably won’t replace smartphones just yet, wearable devices are playing an increasing role in the mobile space, and technology giants are now working on how to integrate them in their existing mobile ecosystems. This is in fact a major driver of Samsung’s strategy for instance. The South Korean electronics giant has recently announced it will soon be launching its own smart watch. Samsung’s Chief Strategy Officer Young Sohn explained : “we have many devices and are trying to increase the bridges.”
Wearables are a software, not hardware, challenge
Contrary to all expectations, though, hardware is not the main challenge in the wearable devices sector anymore. According to Holove, there has been a shift from "sensor tracking to display of the data for users in smarter ways." In other words, we know how to make high quality sensors to track data, and “wearable devices are nothing new,” Holove points out. However, the question is how do you “converts data into user action,” he explains. In order to do this, wearable device software has to make data readable and meaningful for users, and find ways to encourage users to change their long term behaviors. Which is why Basis has built 3 different ways to visualize data. Quantified self geeks have the option to view complex graphs and visualization, while others can simply check out recommendations on how to change their habits, based on their data. The final major thrust of development for wearable device software is data contextualization. “The information must be relevant, otherwise there’s no point in having it,” underlines Holove.