It's all in the wrist: Who has vision to crack the "smartwatch"?

Sep 03 2013, 23:10 IST
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SummaryThe smartwatch could be as revolutionary as the smartphone.

The smartwatch could be as revolutionary as the smartphone - an intelligent device on our wrist that connects our bodies to data and us to the world - but only a handful of companies have the heft and vision to be able to pull it off.

It's not through lack of trying. Watchmakers and others have been adding calculators, calendars and wireless data connections to wrist-straps for at least 30 years.

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd is having another go on Wednesday, when it launches the Galaxy Gear in Berlin, but a source familiar with the matter said that the smartwatch device would be no game changer - more of a fashion accessory than an effort to redefine the genre.

Sony Corp is also launching a modest update of its Android-compatible SmartWatch, while heavyweights Apple Inc and Google Inc have shown tentative signs of interest in developing such technology.

The market potential, cheerleaders say, is vast. Leveraging advances in voice technology, biometrics, communications, cloud storage and power consumption, smartwatches and other wearable devices could be a $50 billion market by 2017, according to Credit Suisse.

"Look at the way we experience mobile communication today - this is not the end point," said Andrew Sheehy, chief analyst at British-based consultancy Generator Research, pointing to the awkwardness with which most of us clasp the handset to our ear, remove it from our pockets to read messages, or tap in appointments and emails.

"If you look at the phone today, it's important to ask: is this as good as it gets?"

Wearable devices such as smartwatches or digital eyewear, the argument goes, could take over many of the more cumbersome functions of a smartphone while also adding functions we can so far only dream of.

By tapping into sensors around the body, on objects and in other devices, they could offer what Plantronics, a headset maker, calls "contextual intelligence", harvesting data to create "a highly personalized experience in real-time", according to Joe Burton, the company's CTO.

Advances in technology

Driving this optimism are advances in technology, and a more sophisticated audience already familiar with smartphones, apps, and wireless communication protocols such as Bluetooth.

The prices and size of sensors have fallen rapidly - making them a feature of many smartphones. Samsung's Galaxy S4 has nine, according to a report on wearable technology by Credit Suisse.

An addition to Bluetooth, for example, uses much less energy and can push and pull data to a watch via the

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