On wearables

The Apple Watch launch gave me a chance to go back and revisit the development of wearable computing and my experience with wearable devices.

Wearable computing had it’s genesis in academic research; some of it government funded. For instance DARPA had a hand in the US Army Land Warrior programme. France has it’s FÉLIN programme and Germany IdZ. All the programmes sought to provide soldiers with location data  and in communication with their colleagues.  Unsurprising  key issues for the soldiers involved included:

  • Weight
  • How cumbersome the equipment was
  • Battery life
  • Reliability / robust product design
  • Value of information provided

It is worth bearing in mind these criteria when thinking about wearables in a consumer context.  SonyEricsson’s LiveView remote control for Android handsets launched the current spurt in ‘smart’ watches. Sony made a deliberate decision to position the LiveView as an augmentation to the smartphone. Think of it as a thin client for your wrist.

Samsung and Apple in some of their communications have looked to muddy the water in the way that they presented their devices, despite the fact that both of them rely on the smartphone  in a slightly more sophisticated way than LiveView.

Much of the early drive in wearables has been around health and fitness where the likes of Nike and Jawbone reinvented the kind of service provided to dedicated fitness enthusiasts by the likes of Polar and Suunto. These devices are primarily about simplification of design to democratise the technology.

By contrast Samsung and Apple have a greater ambition for their devices in terms of the what they can do. I don’t know what the killer app is for a general purpose device and I suspect neither do Apple or Samsung.

Wearables are not particularly robust by design. I have had three Nike Fuelbands fail in 12 months or so. Compare this to the Casio G-Shock and IWC watches that I generally wear. I don’t have to think about wearing my watch; I didn’t worry about washing my hands or stepping in the shower or the swimming pool with it on. You couldn’t do that with a Samsung Gear.

A second unknown factor is how often consumers would be willing to upgrade a smart watch? When one thinks about the expected price point of Apple’s premium watches, it is similar to the products coming out of Switzerland. The cases and straps are well made, but the price of buying an Omega watch is also about buying into a service centre that will keep the watch going for decades to come. Apple’s iPod Classic barely lasted 13 years. The electronic innards of an iWatch would be built from components that would become obsolete, even if Apple wanted to service them.

Would Apple compromise with a modular design that could make it easy to swap out smart watch innards in a case as an analogy to having a watch serviced? I don’t think so, if one looks at Apple’s design move over the past decade towards sealed computing appliances: the iPod, the iPhone, the MacBook Air and the Retina MacBook.

More information
FÉLIN | Army Technology
SonyEricsson LiveView remote and the changing face of mobile computing | renaissance chambara

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Pioneer To Sell DJ Equipment Business For More Than Half A Billion Dollars » Synthtopia – interesting move, particularly with the launch of the new turntable. What will happen with things like IP?

Fareed Zakaria Never Stopped Plagiarizing: How Dozens Of Episodes Of His CNN Show Ripped Others Off | Our Bad Media – looks like a potential new media storm-in-a-teacup. If he plagiarises, he has good taste with the material he takes

Daring Fireball: Apple Watch: Initial Thoughts and Observations – a key point missing here is that you don’t buy a watch when you pay for a luxury watch; you buy into the support network behind it which will keep it running at a price decades from now.

Foreign firms should not control so much of the Chinese economy | WantChinaTimes – explains antitrust crackdowns

This Chennai startup thinks the first click for an e-commerce purchase will soon be on a camera – reminds me of the virtual Homeplus (Tesco) stores in Korea

Daring Fireball: Promotional Images That Hide the iPhone 6 Camera Bulge – interesting that John Gruber has called it a mistake

Using app-specific passwords | Apple – Apple’s way around dealing with recent hacking scandals

Facebook partners with Google, Twitter, others to launch ‘TODO’ – Inside Facebook – interesting move and interesting omissions in the participants

The Apple Watch Won’t Kill the Swiss Watch Industry | The NextWeb – it makes sense that TAG Heuer would make a smart watch being the most feminine of the brands in LVMH’s roster of serious watch brands

Are Agencies Killing Their Programmatic Golden Goose? | WSJ – opaque practices and pricing models of some of these agency groups have recently led marketers to question how their money is being spent, and in some cases to shun the groups completely in favor of building their in-house alternatives

The single, buried statistic that explains China’s slowdown – Quartz – implication that construction is down

DisplayPort 1.3 announced w/ support for upcoming 5K displays, enhanced 4K performance | 9to5Mac – 5k displays already

Mobile Monday demo night

I just got back from Mobile Monday’s demo night ran at the Thistle Marble Arch. This evening’s event used the facilities of an Informa-ran telecoms conference: Service Delivery Innovation Summit. I missed the start of the event so my notes probably miss part of the applications on display.

Swytch – multiple mobile numbers on an application, these numbers could be different country codes and not only allowed calls but messages too. The application is basically a VoIP client rather than a soft SIM. There are other similar services especially in Africa, at the moment the founders think that their USP is the provision of access multiple UK mobile numbers. I don’t want to even go there with potential use cases

Quiztix – Q&A game on both Android and iOS, because of its focus on venues as a metaphor for different game levels a couple of people were interested in reskinning it for brands. The most interesting thing for me was the way that they used advertisements to level-up within the game – increasing ad engagement.

Mylo – was a classic millenial application that helped facilitate splitting bills in house share. The application collects billing data from suppliers including Sky. Ovo Energy. Payment of one’s share could be done by PayPal. They admitted that at the moment they had no business model.

ViewMaker – location-enabled AR application that allowed a user to show & publish geotagged content. The business focus was to be infrastructure for other application or brands who wanted to publish their own data. They didn’t currently have a plan to overlay information from other sources such as Foursquare, Flickr or Google Maps at moment. One thing surprised me in the Q&A session was that clients not interested in indoor positioning yet.

Pronto – A Deliverance-type food service with some key differences. Instead of it being a web interface, Pronto relies on GPS for location. Secondly they have a really simple menu, in order to allow two-second ordering and swifter delivery. The menu doesn’t change very often which is great if you are an ‘eat to live’ person. The application recently launched in Italy and is coming to London soon. Apparently a reliable set of delivery drivers is a problem because of the piece rate / zero-hour contract nature of the work they aren’t necessarily as reliable to showing up as one would like.

Adsy  is mobile or PC platform to create mobile applications that reminded me of a  simple HyperCard set – but no scripting for fuller functinoality. They are handy for building catalogues, or a card-based personal site and can be embedded like a Slideshare or YouTube clip.  It was deliberately kept simple and non-technical to appeal to teens – which was interesting given that most CMOs think of teens as master hackers…

IFS – IFS has its own innovation lab and they demonstrated a working prototype of wearables driving business efficiencies – business notifications to wearables, logistics etc from ERP system. Think of a smart watch as a pager. I think that most of the interesting aspects of this was the connectivity with the legacy systems. Given the current lack of compelling use cases for smart watches this could be interesting due to the provision of glance-able data.

OpenTRV – TRV is a thermostatic radiator valve. They wished to use technology to control temperature localised within a house radiator by radiator. The current model by the likes of Nest or Honeywell relying on one centralised thermostat per house controlling a boiler was considered to be a broken model. They are aiming to lower the cost of their smart TRV 10 pounds per unit.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

On Death and iPods: A Requiem | WIREDI miss the time when we were still defined by our music. When our music was still our music. I miss being younger, with a head full of subversive ideas; white cables snaking down my neck, stolen songs in my pocket. There will never be an app for that.

As Phones Expand, So Does the Word ‘Phablet – WSJ – the etymology of the word phablet – originally from GSMA and first mentioned in print by TelecomTV

Grandparents Accidentally Tag Themselves As Grandmaster Flash | NPR – genius.

IBM News room | IBM and Yonyou to Accelerate Big Data and Analytics Adoption – interesting Chinese partner on big data

Apple Watch ‘too feminine and looks like it was designed by students’, says LVMH executive – Telegraph – ok a bit over-exaggerated coming from the man who heads up TAG Heuer, but beneath the comments lies a deep truth about the watches that I agree with

Huawei In Bad PR Move With Anti-Corruption Campaign | Young’s China Business Blog – interesting analysis of Huawei’s corruption drive

China May Be Heading for a Japanese-Style Economic Crisis | TIME – the Chinese have a lot more levers to pull and a stable government (rather than a new prime minister every year like Japan); both of which are in China’s favour. On the downside China has bigger internal security issues than Japan

阿里美国IPO首场路演的38张PPT(全) – Alibaba IPO deck

Microsoft is found in contempt of court for refusing to hand over user emails | The Inquirer – Microsoft has to go to the line on this as it is likely to affect future international cloud services businesses

China Misses Out on First Wave of New iPhone Releases | Re/code – I wouldn’t be surprised if the government is holding it up deliberately rather like the FCC did with H-silicon-powered Huawei phones

A Watch Guy’s Thoughts On The Apple Watch After Seeing It In The Metal (Tons Of Live Photos) — HODINKEE – some interesting observations, kudos for their industrial design and manufacturing but some really good questions

For Alibaba’s Small Business Army, a Narrowing Path | Foreign Policy – TaoBao needs to fix its model for smaller merchants

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

BMW made a video about the production of the BMW i8 to promote the car. However the tone of the video feels rather like a corporate video from the 1980s

Reebok’s classic range looked to draw on the history of Manchester in this video. It split opinions in the office. Many of my colleagues liked it, but I felt a dissonance between the big speech about building the future with visuals that came straight from 1988. The MA1 jacket, the Reebok Classic trainer – the chav proto-shoe, brutalist architecture, a nice house with 1970s architecture and a mid-to-late 1980s BMW M535i – allegedly beloved of drug dealers trying to shift a load. The car looked discreet about its performance, but could still go like the clappers

Great demonstration by Grandmaster Flash (of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five) of mixing circa 1983

Kickstarter have a campaign running to reprint the New York Transit Authority’s standards manual which was much more than a style guide but went into things like the methodology of planning signage and usability of New York public transport.

Anton Corbjin’s film A Most Wanted Man makes Hamburg amazing and gets great performances out of actors including Willem Defoe and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The film feels believable because it’s based on a John LeCarré novel of the same name. As would be expected in the 21st century the US comes out of it pretty poorly