Wearables 101

Do you have a device that you wear that measures your physical activity and uploads it to a website where you can compete with friends with badges? How about a watch that lights up when you receive an email, or glasses that are able to search for something online when you tell them to? These are all examples of wearables, which are basically computing devices that you wear somewhere on your body that enhance your access to technology – maps, websites, search engines, apps – in some way.

Examples of wearables

Before going too much further into what wearables are, it’s probably important to distinguish what wearables aren’t: they are not devices that are implanted in your body, such as a pacemaker or hearing aids. Wearables are devices that have computing architecture built into them, and can be taken on and off. In addition to the examples given above in the first paragraph, here are a few more instances of wearables:

  • GPS assistance that is implanted into sunglasses and gives you turn by turn road navigation
  • Heart rate monitors that tell you when you need to slow down and speed up, saving records in a database you can bring to your next doctor’s appointment
  • An alert button that skiers wear clipped to their jacket in case of an avalanche; if they run into trouble, the alert broadcasts their location
  • You’ve probably also heard of Google Glass, a pair of glasses that allows you to search for anything you need online, monitor your environment, send a message, navigate, and much more.

In a recent Pew Internet Research study, many industry pundits agree that wearables are the natural next iteration of Web ecosystem development, along with augmented reality and the Internet of Things. Here’s what a few of them had to say:

On how wearables and the Web will work together:  “…mobile, wearable, and embedded computing will be tied together in the Internet of Things, allowing people and their surroundings to tap into artificial intelligence – enhanced cloud-based information storage and sharing….”The most useful impact is the ability to connect people. From that, everything flows.”

How wearables will give us quick feedback on our daily lives, especially in regards to health: “We will grow accustomed to seeing the world through multiple data layers. This will change a lot of social practices, such as dating, job interviewing and professional networking, and gaming, as well as policing and espionage.”

“We may well see wearable devices and/or home and workplace sensors that can help us make ongoing lifestyle changes and provide early detection for disease risks, not just disease. We may literally be able to adjust both medications and lifestyle changes on a day-by-day basis or even an hour-by-hour basis, thus enormously magnifying the effectiveness of an ever more understaffed medical delivery system.”

“The greatest impact will be medical — due to wearable devices and ‘telemedicine’ — and more devices will be implanted. It will happen due to fewer doctors, more bandwidth (for those in cities or better off financially) and demand by the public and the interest of younger physicians. The data of the Internet of Things can be beneficial for individuals, especially when our own bodies start telling us things before we have symptoms.”

How wearables and instant access to online services could improve lives: “The most powerful effect embedded/wearable devices and the Internet of Things will have is to free us from technology, while allowing us to continue to benefit from it to the same and an even greater degree… It will bring scientific advancement through international collaboration; increased constituent voice in political discourse; and a freedom from technology devices that will allow our attention to return to more subtle and fundamental aspects of living.”

Will privacy be an issue? Potentially, but the tradeoffs are seen as more valuable: ““Privacy issues will be outweighed by the perceived benefits of being online and interacting with others all the time. I see wearable, or even embedded, technology managing even the most mundane aspects of our daily lives, from what we need at the grocery store to when it’s time to change A/C filters to scheduling routine medical appointments and tests.”

From futuristic glasses that search the Web on demand to sophisticated smartwatches that do much more than just tell time, wearables are increasingly becoming more integrated into what we tap into online and off. As the Web continues to evolve, we will see wearables become more sophisticated, giving us better access to communication, online services, and everything we access on the World Wide Web.

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