When I got an email from a company I’ve covered a lot telling me that a new wrist-based fitness tracker was on its way to my office, my first thought was, “Can I send it back?”
Let me be frank here: I’ve tested lots of wearable devices, sometimes strapping three at a time to my wrists. And yet I find all watches kind of dumb, regardless of the electronic smarts inside. If I didn’t write about technology for a living, I’d probably go bare.
And let’s not get started on the awkwardness of Google Glass. The industry’s obsession with smartwatches and headgear seems like a push to colonize more parts of our body rather than actually improve our lives.
A Demo Of The Future
So it was interesting to me that we heard very little about either type of hardware at this fall’s Wearable IOT World Labs Demo Day Thursday evening.
I need to make a disclosure here: Wearable IOT World is ReadWrite’s parent company, and the Labs are a sister division. Wearable IOT World takes equity stakes in the companies that go through its Labs program, and my colleagues sometimes personally serve as advisors to some of those companies.
I’ve been observing these companies up close as they’ve built their products and refined their vision over the past few months, so in addition to any professional and financial conflict of interest, I have an emotional conflict of interest in that I’ve grown friendly with many of the founders, as one might do with anyone you’ve shared office space with.
So I’m not going to weigh in on the companies’ prospects. Most startups fail anyway—that’s how the system is designed to work. But I do find their product strategies revealing about the state of wearables and connected devices today.
Yo: Your Wearable Doesn’t Need To Be Worn
There was Poly Labs’s Dingbot, a do-anything fob is kind of what you get if you tossed Tile’s Bluetooth item finder together with the minimalist messaging app Yo and IFTTT’s consumer-friendly software connectors. Or Car.fit, which tracks vehicle vibrations to detect problems without having to get permission from auto manufacturers to interface with its diagnostic ports. Or Prysmex’s smart helmet for miners, which serves as a digital canary to detect dangerous conditions underground.
The one wrist-based device startup, Wotch, flips the smartwatch upside down, putting the display and radio in a strap that hooks onto a conventional watchface. (Pebble and Blocks are likewise pursuing a smartstrap strategy that redefines where the smarts in a smartwatch go.)
Avoiding the wrist and the eyes may simply be a survival strategy for startups, given that everyone from Apple and Samsung wants to dominate smartwatches. Facebook, Microsoft, and others would like to put virtual- or augmented-reality gear on your head.
But it also points to the many opportunities to build hardware that doesn’t have to cling to our bodies, and yet keeps us connected as we work and play. (Drones, anyone?) Leave my wrist alone—it’s suffered enough.