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Eric Migicovsky, the chief executive of Pebble, displays his company's smart watch. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP Photo
Eric Migicovsky, the chief executive of Pebble, displays his company's smart watch. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP Photo

Now watch out for spies like us

Smartphones are so yesterday. Now it's the age of the smartwatch. Or so makers of the so-called wearable computing technology believe. And then there are 3D glasses and sensor-enabled clothing about to come your way, too.

James Bond. Dick Tracy. Next up: You?

Once conceived as a must-have gadget for fictitious spies and other border-hopping women and men of mystery, the smartwatch is poised to become as ubiquitous as the smartphone. At least, that is what manufacturers of so-called wearable computing technology hope will happen.

In February, Nick Bilton of The New York Times reported that Apple had been tinkering with a wristwatch-like device that is constructed of curved glass and would run the company's iOS platform. Apple, in typical fashion, has declined to comment on the matter.

But the company's rival, Samsung, has already come out with a public punch by acknowledging its own research and development efforts within this market.

"We've been preparing the watch product for so long," Lee Young Hee, the executive vice president of Samsung's mobile business, told Bloomberg News last month.

"We are working very hard to get ready for it," he added. "We are preparing products for the future, and the watch is definitely one of them."

Too bad for Sony, no one seems to have paid much attention to its SmartWatch - a product that is already out.

Announced last year, and now selling for US$150, this bulky-looking watch features a 1.3-inch touchscreen that connects to Android smartphones. It then gives the wearer the ability to read emails, send an SMS or pull up Facebook updates - all without having to pick up an actual mobile phone.

Pebble, meanwhile, is another smartwatch that links to mobile phones and also sells for $150. It runs apps and lets aspiring spies control all sorts of features from their phone, including music playlists and GPS data for tracking the speed and distance cycled or run.

"The smartwatch could be the next big thing in consumer electronics," says Steve Koenig, the director of industry analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group.

"That's an area I feel would have more universal appeal," he adds. "Up until now, a lot of the wearable technology has been just part-time or based on certain use cases. So you have your Bluetooth headset but people don't walk around with it all day."

Wearable computing devices such as smartwatches are "one of the next frontiers" within the information and communications technology sector, and they represent a "substantial" market opportunity for semiconductor makers, consumer electronics companies and other businesses, according to a report from MarketsResearch.com.

Yet different models of smartwatches are just some of the devices set to grow this sector in the coming years.

Others include 3D glasses, strap-on digital cameras, sensor-enabled clothing and wearable monitors that track movement.

Portable sports and activity trackers, in particular, often come in direct contact with the skin and are expected to dominate the wearable computing market in the near term. Combined, different models of pedometers, heart-rate monitors and high-tech bracelets are forecast to account for 61 per cent of this market this year, acording to ABI Research. "They improve a person's ability to monitor their own performance, and you can definitely see the demand," says Josh Flood, a senior analyst with ABI.

There are also more expensive, although still wearable, sensors that rely on 3D technology. These tend to be used by elite athletes, as well as professionals who make movies or videogames. For example, some of these sensors might get worn on the body so that a coach can track precise movements, such as what a football player's running technique is like.

"Soon it'll be available on a mass level," says Mr Flood.

Meanwhile, companies including Google, Vuzix and Pivothead are working on, or have already released, eyewear that can snap pictures or record video and pull up certain data from the internet. These kinds of glasses often create a virtual reality experience to inform (or entertain) owners, although concerns have been raised about how distracted individuals might be while wearing a pair.

Battery life - or the lack of it - is another issue that may plague wearable computer makers, warns Mr Flood. Smartphone manufacturers, he notes, have struggled to manage battery life as the devices control a growing array of features. There may be similar challenges to keeping a pair of high-tech glasses recording video for extended periods of time, for instance.

Then there are all those individuals who would rather not be physically tethered to tech. "There's a group of consumers who are not really open to wearing any kind of technology," says Mr Koenig.

"They don't want to wear it - that's a deal breaker."

Still, when looking across different age groups and markets, analysts see demand for wearable computing devices growing overall. According to ABI, more than 485 million wearable computing devices are projected to ship to stores by 2018.

That should leave plenty of options for aspiring spies to consider.

 

business@thenational.ae

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