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The Future of Wearables

I was lying in bed last night, too jacked up from a day of coding (OK, and a Tom Clancy novel) to get to sleep right away, and my half-zombified brain was thinking about this TEDTalk:

It really got me thinking about wearables. I remember the IBM commercial from probably a decade ago in which a guy sitting on a park bench is doing stock trades with this goofy monocle hooked up to some specious portable in his pocket. It seemed outlandishly futuristic at the time, but now it’s just anachronistic, because computers are so far beyond it, and yet that hasn’t happened yet. Besides, who wants to wear a piece of glass over their eye, not that painting your fingernails in primary colors is much better.

The problem with wearables (and modern incarnations like netbooks and iPhones) is that no matter how portable the device becomes, there’s a still a disconnect between physical and electronic objects. The internet is literally passing through us, but there’s no interaction. When you look at things like RFID, networked running shoes, and geotagging, it seems pretty clear that the next decade is going to be all about eroding that distinction. To be honest, I don’t see a true wearable being a valid solution in that timeframe. The hardware just isn’t available to allow even a modestly powerful computer to be worn as jewelry – let alone a battery that doesn’t suck, but that’s a different rant.

I think the real breakout product for this tech would be an iPhone with the projector and camera embedded in the screen. If you have an LCD and a backlight, the only thing missing is a lens. The hardware is actually already at least in the planning stages, and the software (OCR/facial recognition) is already running on cell phones. With a good SDK, the applications would take care of themselves (just look at the Apple App Store), but here’s one idea: you buy a good old-fashioned movie ticket, then hold it up to the screen of your iPhone. Thanks to WiFi/4G, it “recognizes” (really just a fast google search) that this is a movie ticket, then clones the RFID tag so that you can safely lose the paper ticket, updates your calendar, and sets the phone to vibrate during the movie.

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