Home Speaker Profile: Expert Yobie Benjamin, On The Biggest Challenges For Wearables

Speaker Profile: Expert Yobie Benjamin, On The Biggest Challenges For Wearables

Wearable World Congress, ReadWrite’s signature annual conference in San Francisco on May 19-20, will feature the key players who are shaping wearable technology and the Internet of Things. This series profiles some of the experts who will be speaking at the conference.

When Yobie Benjamin met Allan Evans in 2013, they talked for hours about wearables and the state of virtual reality. Passionate about display technology and helping people see the world in a different way, the two men would eventually spin their discussion into a new tech business. 

They, along with a third partner, Ed Tang, wound up founding Avegant and inventing the Glyph, a modern-looking headset capable of playing video in 2D or 3D from anything connected to an HDMI-enabled device. The unit features an embedded virtual retinal display that uses digital light processing (DLP) technology. 

Buy tickets now: Wearable World Congress, May 19-20

That was just the beginning. Benjamin, a senior advisor to Skully Systems CEO Marcus Weller, remains fully immersed in wearable technology. (Skully*, a Wearable World Labs company, makes a motorcycle helmet with a virtual display inside.) Avegant and Skully Systems received a CNN Top 10 Technology Products award in 2014, and Benjamin was honored as a 2015 Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum for his work on display technology. 

An angel investor, entrepreneur, environmental activist, coder and biohacker, Benjamin advises numerous wearables companies, and also mentors startups that come through Wearable World Labs and Indie.bio. I caught up with him as he was preparing for his Wearable World Congress session, to find out more about his approach to wearables. 

As an advisor, how do you approach today’s wearable technologies?

In the world of IoT, the challenges begin in designing for unique and discrete problems that the market will buy. There are many examples of beautiful products lately, but unfortunately, they have never gotten any market traction or acceptance. 

So the first advice I give is this: Just because your grandmother says that your product is a good idea does not make it so. 

What kinds of recommendations do you give, in terms of design, features, function and interoperability?

After you figure out what you’re trying to build, you have to design with user experience and user interface in mind. Design to be beautiful and delightful. This cuts across all products. One of the companies I am invested in is Zen Payroll, which was recently valued at USD $500 million. Who would have thought a payroll company would achieve so much in two years?

Well, it all boiled down to elegant design and delight. Very few companies have achieved this high bar. Of course, we all think of Apple products, but Nest and August stand out as winners in the delight game. Among the companies I advise, Nixie [a flying wearable camera and first-prize winner of Intel’s Make it Wearable competition] is a truly delightful product. 

Interoperability among IoT devices is the lurking monster in the IoT world. With every device connected to the Internet, you will soon see devices thought to be benign, [but then] used as attack vectors to large corporate networks. Think of your smartwatch being used to attack large banks or other critical infrastructure facilities. It is a scary world.

There’s a perceived mad rush to either beat the Apple Watch or develop an even better experience. How do you see that playing out? 

The most critical aspect of IoT development is power management. The biggest weakness of the Apple Watch is power and processing power. You really cannot operate an Apple Watch without an Apple iPhone 5, 6 or above. It almost feels like the Apple Watch serves as a “monitor” to your iPhone, which you have to recharge every 18 hours or so. It is a huge inconvenience.

Size also limits processing power. Despite great advances in semiconductor technologies, SOCs [systems on a chip] still have a significant footprint.

I am confident that Apple will sell 25 million Apple Watches, but it will likely stall as the limitations of screen real estate, power management and processing power begin to eat into the design elegance of the product.

To hear more from Yobie Benjamin and other innovators and experts, register for Wearable World Congress 2015, May 19-20 in San Francisco.

*Skully is a Wearable World Labs company. Wearable World Inc., the parent company of ReadWrite, is an investor in Skully. 

Photo courtesy of Yobie Benjamin

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