Gadget on your arm, who’s latest of them all?

A mind-boggling array of wearable electronics for most body parts — from head to toe, including fingertips — has made computing more practical and intimate in our lives. With the new kid on the block, Google Glass, getting rave reviews across the world, Daniel Thimmayya finds out what other appliances tech-lovers in the city are going gaga about

Published: 15th April 2013 08:22 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th April 2013 08:23 AM   |  A+A-

Gadget1

The year was 2000. When Tom Cruise used a pair of sunglasses to receive a video-encoded message from the fictional Impossible Missions Force about a killer virus, after having the specs scan his retina, speak to him in a tinny computer voice and also self destruct “in 5 seconds”, Google probably hadn’t even begun to think of developing their Glass. Mission Impossible II may be a memory that is long past, but for those in the gadget loop, Google Glass is the next big invention they’re all waiting for.

Whether it’s in your hand, around your neck, clipped on to your shirt sleeve or nestled around your wrist, electronic gadgets that you can wear are increasingly going to change the way your life works. And despite the fact that most of these uber-cool devices are usually developed in the USA and Europe, global debuts and Internet shipping orders ensure that they’re available for people everywhere.

Other than the Google Glass, tech-lovers have been going gaga over the Pebble – a watch that looks like just that, but is actually a smartphone app console that can play music, read texts and mails.

Rift from tech firm Oculus is a whole new world — for something that looks a lot like a sleeping goggle, the 3D simulator glasses will simulate games, locales and even educational applications for you to explore and play with. And finally, if you’ve always thought that the robot Jarvis from the Iron Man movies was cool because it could project keyboards and screens in thin air, then the Celluon Laser Projection Keyboard could be your manna in the wilderness. It projects a keyboard in thin air and you can type on the projection and have the inputs generated into the computer in real-time.

Must-have Factor

So what is it that makes these devices desirable? Utility and a must-have factor. “It’s amazing. I was one of the people who applied to get a pre-order of the beta Google Glass, but I doubt I’ll get one,” complains Rahul Vishweswaran, a 19-year-old student who writes computer code by night. Ever since he saw the first rushes of Google’s Glass that can take pictures, videos, give directions, use the internet and social media, and is activated by what you’re looking at and controlled by voice, he has been slavering over it. Not even the $1,500 price tag has been a deterrent for the youngster, who says that he will not stop till he has one.

But for most other people, the wait-and-watch approach has worked better. Barring a small percentage of people who badgered friends returning from the US to bring them an Apple iPhone and have it unlocked locally, most others waited till it hit Indian markets and then for the price to drop. “I know a few people who have tried it (Glass) out at tech conventions and spoken to people at Google. They’re all raving about how the Glass will make the ‘smart’ in smartphones almost obsolete, but I don’t know if phones can ever be replaced,” says Sanjit Krishna, a coder and compulsive gadget freak. Hold on. Replace mobile phones? That’s not something that’s on the cards for the moment, but supplementing them surely is. “Everyone kept saying that the iPhone’s launch was ill-timed because it came so soon after the iPod Touch was launched, but history was rewritten by the iPhone,” he adds, proving his point that people will buy new devices even if they have overlapping functionalities. Case in point, the iPhone and the iPod Touch are similar in most functions, except the former has phone capabilities.

Health Tracker

Of course, the one class of clip-on devices that people prefer to have independent of their phones, is health-related. “A lot of my friends have become users of Fitbit, the health tracker, because it gives them the idea that they are conscious about their health,” says Aditya Vikram, an accountant who has now forayed into app development. Fitbit is essentially a pedometer, measuring how many steps a day you take and what your speed and time stats and heartbeat is — but when the data is transmitted to your smartphone or computer, the numbers and crunched and you get a daily report card on your health, with suggestions on how much more walking you need to do!

Accuracy. That’s the reason why most device developers are still in business. After the craze to hop on to the app-development bandwagon — developing applications to run on Android, iOS, Symbian, Java and Blackberry platforms — developers have realized that the consumer retail market for portable devices is thriving. “People use a lot of apps as long as they’re free, but very few people pay money and buy apps for health or finance or navigation. Games maybe,” reveals Aditya. When people need a device to fulfil a serious need, apps just don’t make the cut unless it’s just about number crunching, he adds.

Though Fitbit is all about being clipped on your shirt sleeve or bra strap unobtrusively, health monitor companies are looking to develop devices that look like a bracelet, but can do what an advanced heart and health monitor achieve. “We get a lot of patients with BP come in and tell us that their android app tells them that they’ve walked so much or have burnt that many calories. What they fail to recognize is that these apps aren’t the epitome of accuracy. Though the clip-on devices have a small margin of error, their hardware is optimised to be more accurate,” says Dr Rajan S, a cardiac specialist and consultant for a medical equipment tracker firm. So don’t be surprised if your yelling boss suddenly becomes zen-like, after he hears a ‘beep-beep’ from his clipped-on BP monitor.

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