Wearable technology poised to be new wave of electronics

The new thing on the horizon appears to be computing devices you wear on your body.
November 27, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
It wasn't long ago that smartphones were exotic luxury items. Now, for many they're a necessity. And the new thing on the horizon is computing devices you wear. ABC7 News looks at this exploding category of those devices and just how long it might be before you decide you can't live without one.

Dropping your beloved iPhone into a tank of water might just be your worst nightmare. Its insides could be slowly filling up with water, except an iPhone we saw being tested keeps right on working.

"It's a thin nano coating we put on the inside of electronic devices to protect them from water damage," said Ryan Moore, the Hzo creative marketing manager.

The coating is called WaterBlock and it's not actually made for smartphones. It's being developed for the next wave of electronics -- the devices you'll wear on your body.

"Wearables you want to be able to wear with you wherever you go. If you're washing your hands, if you're in the showwer, swimming, things like that," said Moore.

Smart watches, smart glasses, smart jewelry. There's a whole industry working on the technologies behind those technologies. Like, how do you type on a watch?

"You don't need to be as accurate as you think you might need to be," said one Fleksy employee. "You notice how wrong it is and Fleksy's powerful enough to correct it."

Fleksy is a virtual keyboard that doesn't care if you hit the right keys. Just stab anywhere in the ballpark and it'll figure out what you meant.

There's HD vibration. Imagine being able to feel spoken words through your wrist.

"We're really able to recreate pretty much any waveform out there and be able to have that as a way of communicating with someone in their device," said Andy Cheng, the ViviTouch marketing director.

These are the raw ingredients for the next generation of wearable devices. Experts will tell you, the current batch is a little rough around the edges.

"This is still the world of early adopters, and an early adopter is someone who pays too much money for something that doesn't quite work," said Paul Saffo, a technology futurist.

Saffo points to the Samsung Galaxy gear -- a flashy little watch -- that does almost nothing unless you pair it with a big, expensive smartphone, but the gear is on the right part of your body. Saffo thinks the wrist is the first place these tiny computers will go mainstream. Apple could release one in a few months.

"It's a safe bet that the Apple device is going to be much more cool and elegant and probably pretty close to a fashion statement," said Saffo.

And a fashion statement is exactly what Misfit Wearables is going for. These may look like jewelry, but they're actually tiny electronic sensors.

"It is a personal activity tracker. It tracks your daily activity and gives you an update on close you are to hitting your goal," said Justin Butler, the Misfit Wearables business development lead.

About the size of a quarter, with a battery that lasts four to six months, "shine" is part of an exploding wave of health devices. At $99, it's not as full-featured as competing fitness trackers, but it's a lot prettier.

"We think one of the key ways to get people that data is to ensure they actually wear the sensor. And not everybody wants to wear something that looks like a computer all day. People want to wear things that look nice, look like fashion accessories," said Butler.

These sensors are possible because everything is getting smaller and that's something Google may be counting on.

"Google glasses are way too nerdy for ordinary people to wear, but we're within two years of fitting all of that bulky awkward visible stuff on Google glasses into an ordinary pair of glasses," said Saffo.

Or maybe even a pair of swim goggles, to go with that waterproof iPhone.


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