On my CBC show Spark this week, we’re doing a piece on wearable computing, what with all the buzz about Google Glass, Apple’s rumoured smart watch, and the success of personal trackers like the FitBit. I talked to the most excellent Kate Hartman about what it might take for wearables to take off in a mainstream way.
As personal tracking takes off, I wonder how much of it is going to be done with purpose-built, single function devices, compared to simply using apps on our phones. It’s the ‘universal remote‘ question for this decade. On one hand, I think people have got used to the convenience of having everything they need on the device they always naturally have with them. As I asked Kate, are people really going to want to remember to load up with their numerous wearables as well as having to remember house keys and a wallet? I sometimes forget my phone as it is.
So far, I think the Nike Fuel Band is a good example of a wearable that succeeds as jewelry (not to mention succeeding as talking point, since the people I’ve seen wearing them tend to really like to talk about it!). At least some of the excitement about the Pebble smart watch is that it’s actually a really good looking watch.
Still, I can’t help but think ‘implantables’ is the next horizon. The self-tracking movement has seen a very quick move from tracking for serious athletes and people with medical conditions, to tracking as a sort of everyday hobby. Could implantable monitors and nano-devices be far behind? I had a conversation with a woman who works at Chapters recently. She told me that on more than one occasion, when she’s asked younger customers for their loyalty cards, she’s been met with a sort of Homerian “isn’t-there-anything-faster-than-a-microwave” reaction. In an era where things are virtual, producing an actual card seems like having to carry a tree branch around with you all the time. More than that, she told me, these customers have said ‘can’t you just put a chip in me?’ They were joking(?), but I think it speaks to how close we are to the domestication of our cyborg selves.