2014: The year of the wearables

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | Updated: Jan 1 2014, 23:40pm hrs
Technology trends these days have the lifecycles of a smartphone battery, making it increasingly hard to make predictions about where devices are headed in the coming months. There are some easy picks, like saying smartphones will continue to become more dominant as they continue outselling features phones. Similarly, tablets will consolidate around the seven- to eight-inch mark, with all other sizes becoming niche as the year progresses. But my bet is on 2014 becoming the year in which wearable devices become a mass segment.

Wearables are ideally smart devices that are worn anywhere on the body and work in tandem with another device like the smartphone or on their own. So on one side you have the Google Glass which sort of does everything a smartphone does while being perched on the bridge of your nose, and on the other you have intelligent bands, vests and even shoes that keep a tab on your body 24/7. The latter part is where you will see most of the action in the near future. These devices will also usher in what can be called as the quantified self, a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on many aspects of a person's daily life. This technology encompasses self-monitoring and self-sensing, which combines wearable sensors and wearable computing.

According to research firm Canalys, the shipments of smart wearable bands are expected to grow by over 500% in the second half of 2013 from the 2,00,000 units in the first half. A lot of this number can be attributed to the marketing might of Korean tech giant Samsung which has recently launched Galaxy Gear smartwatch that works with its new phones. But then there are a host of affordable devices like Pebble and Fitbit which will take wearable computing to millions of wrists around the world.

I recently acquired a Pebble smartwatch and haven't missed a call since. Every call vibrates on my wrist, and every text message flashes on the watch face. While the watch needs a smartphone to control it, some new apps actually let you control parts of the paired phone. So there are new apps that let you click a photo from the phone's camera without using the phone. With Pebble expected to launch a full app store in early-2014, there could be a host of more intelligent apps coming our way.

And this is exactly why I think wearable devices could be a game changer. Any technology that will actually let users make a call or write a text message without having to hold a device will be a disruptor. We are a couple of years away from perfecting it, especially since voice recognition will be an integral part of any such technology. But once this starts working well, a lot of people will find a reason not to use a smartphone or tablet. You might say a large screen cannot be replaced. But remember, Google Glass can already beam stuff in front of your eyes, that too without obstructing what you are doing, or looking at.

Of late, personal technology has shown this tendency to take strange deviations which no one had really predicted. For instance, there was no smartphone before the iPhone and no tablet before the iPad. We knew we wanted these devices only after they were launched. With Apple, along with a bunch of other top tech companies, working on smart wearable devices, we could be in for another nudge that takes our device preferences to another orbit altogether. Yes, 2014 promises to be interesting.

The author is editor, New Media, Indian Express Group