I like gadgets, to the point where it I can get a little weird about things if they have just the right technological bent. My geek lust has seen my wallet open itself for all sorts of purchases I wouldn’t have typically made for myself just because the gadget geek in me fell in love with a piece of engineering or ingenious technology. It’s curbed somewhat by my desire for all things to have an useful function but that still means my house is littered with various objects which have caught my fancy at one point or another. With that in mind you’d think that I’d be something of a prime candidate for a smartwatch but I just can’t see the point of having one.
I’ll admit that I was somewhat impressed by the Pebble when I first saw it, mostly due to the fact that it used an e-Ink screen rather than a small LCD (which are notorious for being crap). I came in late to the Kickstarter however and missed out on my chance to get one but I figured it wouldn’t be too long before I could snag one at retail. Of course long delays ensued and many competitors have since released similar products but strangely enough I found myself looking at all of them and then wondering what the use case for them would be. Sure some of them looked cool (I’m something of a sucker for watches) but I couldn’t see the advantage of getting one over a traditional watch, especially if looks were the deciding factor.
The majority of the functionality seems to be focused towards at-a-glance style information coming from your smartphone like alerting you to messages or other application alerts. Whilst I can see some use for this most of the time those messages would require some action on my behalf something which these watches aren’t designed to accommodate. Using it as an external mic/speaker for my phone is something I don’t see myself using either as the quality is always going to be below that of what my phone itself can provide. Couple all this with the fact that it’s yet another device I’ll have to charge and I can’t really see the point of getting one, at least not in their current incarnations.
I could be convinced on the idea if the smartwatches included some functionality like the FitBit One and Jabone UP in them, possibly alongside an implementation of MYO. Whilst I’d love to do more metric tracking so that I could better hone my fitness program the idea of having another wearable, chargeable device always poses a significant barrier. However if a combination of all this tech could find its way into a single device then I could see myself warming to the idea as then it would be providing a whole host of functionality that my phone does not. At the same time I probably wouldn’t even need the traditional smartwatch capabilities if a fitness tracker, MYO and watch were all combined into one but if you’d already integrated that much tech it’d be inevitable to just go that one further step.
Of course I know hear the caterwauling of people thinking “Scratch your own itch! Build it yourself!” but honestly I’m not that wedded to the idea at all, just more musing over what it would take for me to come over to the smartwatch camp. I’m happy for someone to try and sell me on the idea though as I’m never adverse to spending money for good tech, so long as it serves a purpose.
We’re on the cusp of a new technological era thanks in no small part to the ubiquity of smart phones. They’ve already begun to augment us in ways we didn’t expect, usurp industries that failed to adapt and have created a fledgling industry that’s already worth billions of dollars. The really interesting part, for me at least, is the breaking down of the barriers between us and said technology as whilst it’s all well and good that we can tap, swipe and type our way through things it does feel like there should be a better solution. Whilst we’re still a ways off from being able to control things with our brains (although there’s a lot of promising research in this direction) there’s a new product available that I think is going to be the bridge between our current interface standards and that of more direct control methods.
Shown above is a product called the MYO from Thalmic Labs, a Y-Combinator backed company that’s just started taking pre-orders for it. The concept for the device is simple: once you slip this band over your arm it can track the electrical activity in your muscles which it can then send back to another device via BlueTooth. This allows it to track all sorts of gestures and since it doesn’t rely on a camera it’ll work in far more situations than other devices that do. It’s also incredibly sensitive being able to pick up movement right down to your fingers, something which I wasn’t sure would be possible based on other similar prototype devices I had seen in the past. Needless to say I was very intrigued when I saw it as I instantly saw it as a perfect companion to Google’s Glass.
All the demonstration videos for Google Glass shows it being commanded by a pretty powerful voice interface with some functions (like basic menu navigation) handled through eye tracking. As a technology demo its pretty impressive but I’m not the biggest fan of voice interfaces, especially if I’m in a public space. I then started thinking about alternative input methods and whilst something like a laser keyboard works in certain situations I wanted something that would be as discreet as typing on a smartphone but was also a bit more elegant than carting around that (admittedly small) device. The MYO could provide the answer to this.
Now the great thing about the MYO is that they’re opening it up to developers from the get go, allowing people like me to create all sorts of interesting applications for the device. For me there’s really only a single killer application required to justify the entry cost: a simple virtual keyboard that uses your muscles. I’ve read about similar things being in development for a while now but nothing seems to have made it past the high concept stage. MYO on the other hand has the real potential to bring this to fruition within the next year or two and whilst I probably won’t have the required augmented reality device to take advantage of it I’ll probably end up with one of these devices anyway, just for experimentation.
With this missing piece of the puzzle I feel like Glass has gone from being a technical curiosity to a device that I could see myself using routinely. The 1.0 MYO might be a little cumbersome to keep around but I’m sure further iterations of it will make it nigh on unnoticeable. This is just my narrow view of the technology as well and I’m sure there’s going to be hundreds of other applications where a MYO device will unlock some seriously awesome potential. I’m very excited about this and can’t wait to get my hands on one of them.