updated 10:04 pm EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Computex Taipei reveals massive interest in wearable technology
A lot has been written about the potential explosion in the wearable computing segment, with 2014 expected to be a watershed year. Electronista was on hand at the Computex Taipei 2014 Qualcomm keynote on wearables to highlight what it thinks is going to be the a massive opportunity for the company and its technology platforms. With technology moving quickly, no one wants to arrive late to the party and miss out on what could be the next booming market segment. Yet at the same time, there are plenty of sceptics who question just how much potential there is in the segment given that computing wearables are just another device that will require recharging, while many people have long abandoned their watches in favor of just using their smartphones. Qualcomm, however, believes it has done the research and can hit the sweet spot for usability and wearability.
Qualcomm has already dabbled with wearables, launching the interesting Qualcomm Toq smart watch last year. Not only does the Toq demonstrate Qualcomm's low-power chip-making prowess, it also serves to demonstrate the ultra-low power consumption capabilities of its vaunted Mirasol display technology. Qualcomm's presentation highlighted that users are prepared to charge their wearable device as frequently as once a week. A key factor in reducing power consumption and increasing battery life is the display. According to Qualcomm, the display in a wearable can suck up as much as 60 percent of the battery usage in a wearable. This compares with around 30 percent in a smartphone. Compared to OLED and LCD technology, Mirasol displays can bring the equation for wearables into line with smartphone displays.
Qualcomm also took the time to highlight what it thinks are the key characteristics that will make wearables like smart watches appeal to users and drive adoption (no doubt, hopefully powered by Qualcomm technologies). These include, being 'always on,' 'always sensing,' and 'always listening.' Given that smart watches, in particular, also need to be light and thin in order to be desirable clearly presents some interesting challenges. Hence, it could help to explain why Apple, for example, has been rumoured to be struggling to get the battery life on its rumored iWatch into a realm of usability that it would demand before pushing such a product out into the market. However, if manufacturers are able to create a device that meets Qualcomm's key requirements for a successful wearable, it is conceivable that the potential benefits of a device that is 'always sensing,' for example, could appeal to users interested in closely tracking their health stats.
Unsurprisingly, a tour of around the massive number of Computex vendor stalls revealed considerable interest in wearable technology. Among numerous smart watches, vendors like Martian and E-Ink, showed how there various takes on what makes for a good wear able. Martian has opted for a blend of a traditional clock face, combined with a small LCD panel for displaying notifications received over Bluetooth. E-Ink demonstrated a number of wearables with flexible E-Ink display technology. There were also a number of vendors on hand demonstrating wear able technology in the form of clothing with embedded trackers like heart rate monitors, GPS and accelerometers to assess impact forces. This is an interesting space in itself, with numerous top sporting teams increasingly using the technology to see how far a player has run during a match, how much they have extorted themselves in order to tailor personalized recovery regimens.
It seems inevitable that wearables will take an increasing role in our lives, it just seems to be a matter of to what extent, and how quickly the technology can evolve in a way that people will find it to be truly a value-add to what are already fairly complex digital lives.
By Sanjiv Sathiah