With smart watches and fitness armbands that can communicate with smartphones, the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona gave an insight into the future of wearable technology.
The technology market is undergoing profound changes and many hardware manufacturers are suffering from the continuing slump in personal-computer sales. The centre of a person’s digital life is now their smartphone, not their PC, and manufacturers are catching up.
Sony presented in Barcelona its new SmartBand, a personal digital diary which is worn as a fashion bracelet and communicates with Android smartphones. It can control, for example, the music on your phone and alerts you to incoming calls.
The Chinese manufacturer Huawei exhibited a smart bracelet with a display that can be removed and used as a headset.
Alongside the latest version of its smart watch, the Galaxy Gear, smartphone market leader Samsung displayed a bracelet with a curved AMOLED display called Gear Fit: it measures the wearer’s heart rate and counts the number of steps taken. AMOLED is a new screen technology. In addition the bracelet informs the wearer when the smartphone receives an email or text message.
These kinds of devices reach their true potential when interacting with a smartphone.
“The smartphone has changed a lot of things, but this is only the beginning,” said ST Liew, smartphone chief at Acer.
The company doesn’t currently have any wearable technology in its portfolio but products are waiting in the wings, Liew said.
“We’re working on a number of smartware projects, but we’re not in a hurry.”
Samsung is the leader in the area. The company realizes that the smartphone is at the centre of modern life, market researcher IHS said, and rivals will need to hurry if they want to catch up.
And more surprises from the South Korean tech giant will be coming this year, Samsung’s Mario Winter has promised. It’s important to be the first to market with such innovations, Liew said.
“But the question is, the first of what?” Smart watches have attracted a lot of attention but remain largely a niche market.
The technology in a smart watch is of course important, but so is the design and having well coordinated functionality, said Andre Loenne from HTC.
He said his Taiwan employer sees great potential in the market and is working on a number of concepts.
Smart watches are no longer an experimental field, said Samsung’s Winter. In Germany alone, for example, he says more than 100,000 of Samsung’s smart watches had been sold by the end of last year.
The Gear 2 and Gear Fit will attract further consumer attention and prices are expected to fall as market demand grows.