The Australian - The Deal - - Front Page - BY SKEEVE STEVENS

With many busi­ness apps in de­vel­op­ment for Google Glass, and mi­crochips in watches, ear­phones and clothes, the era of hands-free com­put­ing is about to be­come an in­te­gral part of our daily lives


Google Glass pro­to­type sup­plied by buildAR


From left: TomTom Run­ner sup­plied by H+K Strate­gies, Sony Smart­Watch sup­plied by Haus­mann, Sam­sung Galaxy Gear watch sup­plied by Edel­man

Up­stairs in a ho­tel room in Syd­ney a group of early adopters are hav­ing a “meet-up” to check out the lat­est in wear­able tech­nol­ogy. Or­gan­is­ers Rob Man­son, founder of buildAR, and part­ner Alex Young watch as watch as people try on Google Classs for the first time.

"They find it strange at first but then they get used to to tap­ping the side of the Glass to do the track­ing and they be­gin to see what it can do,” Young says.

Man­son and Young, who spe­cialise in de­vel­op­ing prod­ucts us­ing aug­mented re­al­ity, are among a hand­ful of people in Aus­tralia who have Google Glasses. They have been run­ning reg­u­lar wear­able tech­nol­ogy meet-ups to cater for in­ter­est from early adopters and com­pa­nies keen to see first-hand where wear­able tech­nol­ogy is go­ing, al­though Google is yet to con­firm when it might re­lease its prod­uct in Aus­tralia.

Wear­able tech­nol­ogy has been part of our pop­u­lar cul­ture since Dick Tracy be­gan talk­ing into his wrist­watch ra­dio in the 1940s. Then there was Star Trek’s Cap­tain Kirk, who tapped the Com­mu­ni­ca­tor on his chest and spoke the iconic phrase “Beam me up, Scotty”. But it has been news of Google Glass that has led to in­creas­ing pre­dic­tions that this will be the year wear­able tech­nol­ogy hits the main­stream. The prod­uct may well be one of the most over­hyped in­ven­tions be­fore it has even been re­leased. But to­day, prac­ti­cally ev­ery com­pany that makes any sort of con­sumer elec­tron­ics is work­ing on a gad­get that falls into the space of “wear­able tech­nol­ogy”. Watches, bracelets, ear­phones, cloth­ing, glasses, shoes — you name it, and soon it will have a microchip in it and be com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the In­ter­net of Ev­ery­thing.

Given fash­ion trends, prac­ti­cal us­age and med­i­cal ne­ces­sity, in the next few years there will be few people with­out some kind of wear­able tech­nol­ogy. Google Glass is go­ing to change the world, not be­cause of what it can do — it isn’t re­ally that amaz­ing from a func­tional per­spec­tive; it doesn’t (yet) do any­thing that a com­puter or smart­phone can’t al­ready do. But it will change the world in the way we in­ter­act with tech­nol­ogy on a daily ba­sis.

The start of the most re­cent phase of con­sumer wear­able tech­nol­ogy dates back to May 2006 with the re­lease of the $30 Nike+iPod Sports Kit. It was a joint ar­range­ment be­tween Nike and Ap­ple, with Ap­ple mak­ing the an­nounce­ment. As Ap­ple’s iPod Nano got smaller and smaller, it was able to be in­te­grated with other prod­ucts. Nike de­signed a pair of shoes with a space in the in­sole for a sen­sor that could trans­mit in­for­ma­tion to an iPhone. This de­vice would send in­for­ma­tion about your ex­er­cise times, pace, dis­tance and calo­ries burnt and you could even pro­gram a power song to play when you needed a burst of mo­ti­va­tion.

The tech­nol­ogy was great, but the gamechanger was that it rep­re­sented a smart tie-up be­tween two leading brands. As with Mi­crosoft’s an­nounce­ment of tablet com­put­ers, though, it took some time for mo­men­tum to build. It was not un­til 2012 that the Ap­ple+Nike ini­tia­tive was fol­lowed by other ma­jor con­sumer prod­uct an­nounce­ments. The cur­rent pro­duc­ers of wear­able tech­nol­ogy that are mak­ing noise are:

SAM­SUNG: Last year it re­leased the Galaxy Gear smart­watch. This was a great first-ef­ford de­vice that ran a full An­droid op­er­at­ing sys­tem

but had to be teth­ered to a Sam­sung smart­phone, and only a cou­ple of mod­els at that. This year, how­ever, it has hit the ground run­ning with the Galaxy Gear 2, Neo and Gear Fit sports­band — things ev­ery­one is al­ready talk­ing about.

FIT­BIT: While it has been around since 2009, the Fit­bit Flex re­leased last year was the com­pany's first wrist "wear­able"de­vise. It is still the mar­ket leader with more than a mil­lion of the Fit­bit Force sold this year in the US alone. But Fit­bit is learn­ing what hap­pens when some­thing goes wrong. Af­ter more than 10,000 com­plaints of skin ir­ri­ta­tion re­sult­ing from the new Fit­bit Force band, it has sent out an of­fi­cial prod­uct re­call and has stopped sell­ing it for the mo­ment. At $US130 (about $140) each, that is an ex­pen­sive mis­take.

NIKE: The Nike FuelBand is a top seller in the "ac­tiv­ity tracker" prod­uct space, with a new per­spec­tive on mo­ti­va­tion. This de­vice re­mainds you to get up and move around and com­mu­ni­cates with your friends, who can do the same.

JAW­BONE: The UP range from Jaw­bone is min­i­mal­is­tic and stylish, prov­ing that good looks over func­tion­al­ity can drive sales.

PEB­BLE: A Kick­starter project with a mas­sive fol­low­ing, Peb­ble started with a goal of rais­ing $100,000 and ended up reach­ing $10.2 mil­lion in fund­ing with 68,929 back­ers, and it is one to watch. At the Con­sumer Elec­tronic Show in Las Ve­gas in Jan­uary, Peb­ble an­nounced the Steel, which brings clas­si­cal watch styling in steel and leather to the smart­watch revo­lu­tion.

OCU­LUS RIFT: While not day-to-day wear­able tech, the new Crys­tal Cove pro­to­types were rated by many re­view­ers as the best prod­uct of CES 2014. These vir­tual re­al­ity gog­gles will change the face of gam­ing and vir­tual re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ences. With more than 50,000 de­vel­oper kits in circulation, con­tent and ap­pli­ca­tion cre­ators are rapidly cre­at­ing a mass mar­ket for these de­vices. The con­sumer ver­sion is ex­pected to be priced from $200 to $400.

GOOGLE GLASS: An­nounced in 2012, Glass was re­leased to so- called Ex­plor­ers last year so that they could re­port back their ex­pe­ri­ences to Google. Glass is the most talked-about prod­uct that you can't buy yet, Google 'hopes' to maybe" re­lease Glass this year. Sev­eral sig­nif­i­cant an­nounce­ments have al­ready been made this year in­clud­ing colours, pre­scrip­tion mod­els, four ti­ta­nium styles and tinted lenses. Glass will cost about $US1500 with an­other $US220 for pre­scrip­tion lenses. When­ever the launch is, it is likely to be stag­gered, as with the re­lease of an iPhone, to al­low sup­pli­ers to meet the de­mand.

AN­DROID WEAR: The most re­cent en­trant to the watch mar­ket is Google An­droid Wear, which al­lows de­vices to be heav­ily in­te­grated with the Google Now func­tion­al­ity avail­able on smart­phones. The teaser trailer for the Moto360 has people dancing around, talk­ing to the watch and get­ting up­dates on rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion as they live their lives. It looks great too. Sum­sung and and Peb­ble had bet­ter watch out.

AP­PLE: With two of the most hyped non-prod­ucts, the iGlass and iWatch, Ap­ple has been typ­i­cally silent on the wear­able tech­nol­ogy mar­ket. But if even a small part of the ru­mours are to be be­lieved, Ap­ple is work­ing on some­thing big. Sadly there isn’t much Ap­ple can re­lease in this space that hasn’t al­ready been tried, but what­ever it does, it will work fan­tas­ti­cally and look amaz­ing.

OTH­ERS: LG and Mo­torola re­cently an­nounced they would be bring­ing their An­droid watches to the mar­ket in the next cou­ple of months. Both of these com­pa­nies have the ex­pe­ri­ence and skills to make a de­cent so­lu­tion but, be­yond func­tion­al­ity, they need to cre­ate some­thing people will want to wear.

Be­fore the launch of the iPhone, most smart­phones were in the geek realm. Now, a new de­vice won’t sur­vive un­less it is stylish, easy, has a touch­screen and a great eco-sys­tem. Peb­ble, Fit­bit, Jaw­bone, Sam­sung and Ap­ple have proven that you have to look amaz­ing if you want to sur­vive in the wear­able tech­nol­ogy mar­ket. This

could be an is­sue for Google Glass, which un­til the re­cent an­nounce­ments was a lit­tle nerdy look­ing. But even with the new looks and ma­te­ri­als, it is not cer­tain you will be see­ing the fashionistas walk­ing around town with them. But the key is­sue with any new tech­nol­ogy is what it can do for you. The suc­cess of each de­vice will de­pend on what ap­pli­ca­tions are de­signed for them. Google Ex­plor­ers and many ma­jor com­pa­nies are study­ing their po­ten­tial to con­nect with cus­tomers or to in­te­grate into their work­places.

How wear­able tech­nol­ogy will in­te­grate with Aus­tralia’s high level of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, egal­i­tar­ian at­ti­tudes, in­for­mal­ity, ir­rev­er­ent sense of hu­mour, and strong sense of the prac­ti­cal re­mains to be seen. But ex­pect some neg­a­tive re­ac­tions when the “Glass­holes” (creepy or rude people) hit the streets to­wards the end of this year.

Fit­ness and health trackers have al­ready proved very pop­u­lar. There doesn’t even seem to be much fuss about them and they are treated as just an­other tool. Even sit­ting at cafes, you can hear people talk­ing about their fit­ness de­vices and com­par­ing sta­tis­tics on their smart­phones. Steps, heart rate, ac­tive min­utes, and sleep ef­fec­tive­ness have be­come the new lan­guage. Dur­ing a speech to the Lowy In­sti­tute in Aus­tralia last year, News Cor­po­ra­tion ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Ru­pert Mur­doch men­tioned he was wear­ing a Jaw­bone health tracker. “This is a bracelet which keeps track of how I sleep, move and eat — trans­mit­ting that in­for­ma­tion to the cloud,” he said, hold­ing up his left hand.

Sven Rees, an ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist with the Aus­tralian Col­lege of Phys­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion and a lec­turer at Syd­ney Univer­sity, has been us­ing de­vices such as GPS trackers, watches, pe­dome­ters, heart rate mon­i­tor and fit­ness trackers for the past five years. " The best part of

It will be com­mon to see signs telling people to re­move their Google Glass in sen­si­tive ar­eas such as hos­pi­tals

wear­able tech­nol­ogy for me is how it helps me ex­er­cise and pro­vides feed­back about the qual­ity of my ex­er­cise,” he says. “I also love know­ing about my sleep pat­terns. I would not ex­er­cise or sleep now with­out some sort of mea­sure­ment.”

But he is crit­i­cal of the cur­rent qual­ity of smart­bands with many giv­ing var­ied mea­sure­ments. “At present, the smart wrist­bands are aw­ful fit­ness trackers. They seem to have so much er­ror in their mea­sure­ments of steps taken, dis­tance and en­ergy ex­pen­di­ture that I find them sim­ply frus­trat­ing. They are a long way off where they need to be.” He be­lieves more ac­cu­rate mea­sur­ing tech­nol­ogy is on its way, such as the Blaupunkt Blue­tooth Bio­met­ric Ear­phones.

The so­cial im­pact of wear­able tech­nol­ogy dur­ing these early adopter years will be sig­nif­i­cant. Pri­vacy con­cerns, both le­git­i­mate and imag­ined, are sure to cause con­tro­versy once these gad­gets are avail­able to the mass mar­ket. Just as some venues and businesses have signs ask­ing you to not talk on mo­bile phones, it will be com­mon to see signs telling people to re­move their Google Glass in sen­si­tive ar­eas such as hos­pi­tals, doc­tor surg­eries, bath­rooms, cin­e­mas and banks.

In the US re­cently, the FBI was called by an AMC cin­ema man­ager to ar­rest a Glass wearer, fear­ing he was record­ing the movie. The user had the pre­scrip­tion lenses and was wear­ing them all the time, but dur­ing the movie had the Glass turned off. This didn’t stop two federal agents drag­ging the user out of the cin­ema and ac­cus­ing him of piracy. In Fe­bru­ary at a San Fran­cisco bar, jour­nal­ist Sara Slocum was ver­bally and phys­i­cally at­tacked by “Google Glass Haters”, with one snatch­ing the de­vice off her face. Rob Man­son, who de­vel­oped the word-first Aug­mented Re­al­ity Con­tent Man­age­ment Sys­tem, has spent sig­nif­i­cant time work­ing on the po­ten­tial of Google Glass. Wear­ing the Glass in Aus­tralia, Man­son says it is ap­par­ent there is con­cern about pri­vacy among the gen­eral pub­lic. But he ar­gues that “pri­vacy is largely an in­dus­trial age il­lu­sion”.

“In vil­lages be­fore the in­dus­trial age we didn’t have pri­vacy,” he says. “In the wear­ables age we won’t ei­ther. But on the whole it’s re­ally no worse than a mo­bile phone cam­era ... but it does make the cap­ture process a lot eas­ier and more per­sonal.” Man­son says he makes a point of putting his Glass on his fore­head like sun­glasses when en­ter­ing a bath­room — as a form of “cour­tesy sig­nalling”.

How­ever, pri­vacy will be a se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion for BuildAR in fu­ture. The com­pany has launched a Kick­starter project to raise $48,000 to al­low it to fur­ther de­velop its “aug­ment­ing the web” project. The com­pany’s aug­mented re­al­ity prod­ucts will pro­vide users of Glass or smart­phones with what ap­pears to be 3-D video that will over­lay the real world with data.

Prod­ucts such as these are go­ing to be sig­nif­i­cant over the next cou­ple of years as new ar­eas of ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing ex­plode. The revo­lu­tion of a new tech­nol­ogy era is an ex­cit­ing prospect. While there will be hic­cups at the start, our lives over the next few years will be ir­re­vo­ca­bly changed. In a few years, some­one could be sit­ting at a desk writ­ing an ar­ti­cle, wear­ing their nor­mal glasses with a pro­jec­tion on the lenses of look-ups of syn­onyms, spell­ing and back­ground re­search. There could be meet­ing rooms full of ex­ec­u­tives or en­gi­neers ref­er­enc­ing documents or shar­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, all wear­ing Glass or a sim­i­lar de­vice. The old pro­jec­tor or plasma screen will be long gone. Paper? Re­mem­ber how that used to feel?

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