The wristwatch was an invention of convenience for extreme conditions. Previously the pocket watch provided an elegant and portable mechanism for discerning the current time. However increasing complexity of military maneuvers in the 19th century and more civilly and popularly with the advent of planes, pilots wanted precise time measurements without getting in the way. So ingeniously they strapped the watch to their wrist in order to free the hands to fly the plane yet still provide quick access to time.
Over more than a hundred years, the wrist watch had become as much a mechanism of fashion as information. It is maintained as the only general cultural acceptable display of machinery on our bodies. From digital devices in candy machines to bejeweled masterpieces, the fundamental concept of a watch is global.
However the utility of personal display of time is stagnant and arguably antiquated. It is difficult to avoid seeing the time displayed with nearly ever glance to a wall, building, or device. Yet alternative wearable devices have attempted to emerge into consumer mainstream for decades. Often cumbersome, complicated, and limited, no amount of marketing has sustainably become part of our wardrobe.
Who needs pants?
A survey found in 2014 that people perform over 220 tasks per day on their phone and carrying one more often than they are wearing pants. There is also the emerging preference of current tech versions over trendy clothes. The handheld window to the web and our digital communities found a visceral niche in our psyche that dramatically altered our behavior.
Like our aviator predecessors, the concept of a hands-free, glance-able information display felt right. While the underlying technology available is tremendously complex, when it comes to our bodies we are reticent to display or deal with complex and awkward devices.
So when it comes to expanding technology out of our pockets and laptops it makes perfect sense to adopt acceptable form factors and instead transparently transform the interactions we have with these objects.
While a smart phone is something that carried with us nearly constantly, a smart watch has the unique and paradigm altering position of becoming part of my biology. Smart Watches are a watch only in shape. To consider them as a timepiece is a gross misconception. A smart watch is a network-connected, sensor-laden, interactive computer which is always visible and constantly in touch with my physical body.
At any moment it measures my heart rate, temperature, motion, skin galvanic, salinity – as well as the external environment including light luminance, light direction, air temperature, humidity and sound.
These data are then captured, connected, and streamed to mobile and remote processors. This is our first, subtle step to cyborg. So the question becomes, what do we want to do now?
Personal Big Data Device
I rarely want to know What time is it?
Rather I want to know How much time until my next event? Time is merely data, what I want is information. The conversion of time data requires balancing my schedule, current location, transit, pending tasks, and a myriad other factors. Computers, and more recently smart phones provide tools for balancing all of this data and providing alerts or suggestions based on our preferences. However these devices can afford to be verbose in their management and interaction. We immerse ourselves into the action of using them in order to extract information.
By contrast, wearable devices like smart watches are antithesis to this immersion. They must instead by passive – raising only relevant information in the appropriate context that balances time, location and urgency. I permit this device to live on my body but the requirement is that it must be a good citizen and behave itself. Failure is banishment.
To succeed, wearable devices must become Big Data Devices. They must capture and process huge amounts of data in order to discern the small, highly relevant bits of information that require my human awareness and intervention. They must really be smart in truth, not merely in name.
Internet of Humans
There are tremendous opportunities for smart devices. Consider that smart watches have a constant monitor on my current health. I don’t care about my current heart rate – but I do want to know if over the past four months a heart arrhythmia is detected and I am notified to contact my physician. In fact, all historic heart data can be sent ahead and used as part of the diagnosis.
What if a smart watch could detect a heart attack and automatically send an alert to emergency response including location and other important health and contact information?
Apple in particular is clearly signaling their intent on this direction. They are providing frameworks such as HealthKit and AirStrip as well as more mundanely Home Automation, location, and others in order to encourage innovation of domains while they offer the platform of human bodies pumping out data and attention.
Watch Apple’s WWDC 2015 keynote to see how they are building predictive analytics into their software. Your iPhone will be aware that each morning about 8am you go for a run and listen to particular genres of music. So as you head out your door and start your workout an appropriate album starts playing and your fitness tracking app starts logging.
Consider that applied to home automation including thermostat, lights, security system – or purchasing behaviors through Apple Pay that correlate to your activity and health – or even restaurant venue quality measured through ambient consumer devices that are on everyone’s wrist throughout the day.
Five years ago, Apple acquired a company called Color. There was much derision due to the pre-launch nature and cost of the acquisition. Color’s business was using every sensor on a device in order to capture, share and replay the entire environment around a person. Carried to it’s end, with sufficient full coverage from every digital device throughout the day across the world – they were inventing a form of Time Travel. Not the teleportation kind – but the ability to replay in full clarity, from any vantage point, any previously recorded event and navigate through as an observer. Much like Microsoft Photosynth.
However a phone is often in your pocket or a bag – muffled by fabric, data suspect due to mixed environments, handling, and visibility. Instead, these devices are emerging into the light and given prominence – and most vitally, access – to the world, to the web, and to our physical beings.
The future is not an internet of things, it’s an Internet of Humans.