Wearable computing

Apple and Nike aren’t alone. Sunglasses manufacturer Oakley has been making hi-tech shades for a couple of years now, culminating in its recently launched O ROKR device. Oakley has partnered with Motorola to create Bluetooth-enabled sunglasses, which allow users to stream music wirelessly from their MP3 player or make telephone calls without reaching for the mobile in their pocket. Yet from face-on you’d be hard-pressed to notice that the O ROKR wasn’t an ordinary pair of sunglasses – it’s only when viewed from the side that you see the discreet headphones hanging from the arms of the glasses.

Wearable computing

Why has it taken companies such as Apple and Oakley this long to latch on to wearable computing? Advances in wireless technology have been crucial, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth components now miniaturised to such an extent that they’re unobtrusive. “When we’re designing products, we sometimes have to wait for the technology to catch up. As technology grows smaller, we can take our fulsome creations to the next level,” says an Oakley spokesperson.

Another reason for their success is that the public is now much more comfortable with the idea of fashionable gadgets. “Wearable devices are a lot more acceptable. We’re living in a wireless society now,” says the Oakley spokesman. And, perhaps surprisingly, the wearable gadgets are as popular with women as they are men. “You’d think that it would be a predominantly male product. But there’s an even split between the sexes. Women like to have the latest technology, especially in the cities. We’ll see more of a swing in the UK to products that women will find more acceptable, incorporating more feminine style and colours.”

Indeed, Apple and Nike have confirmed they’ll continue to work on new products together, while the Oakley spokesperson said that building video displays into its sunglasses is “always a possibility”.

Full-blown computers

Sporty MP3 players and musical sunglasses are all well and good, but with technology shrinking ever smaller, is the prospect of wearing a full-blown PC any closer to becoming a reality?

Companies such as Parvus think so. Its developers have started to distribute a device called the Zypad, which looks like a giant wristwatch, but is actually a computer capable of running either Linux or Windows CE. Unlike previous stabs at wristwatch PDAs, such as Fossil’s Palm OS-based device, the Zypad is fully wireless with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS capabilities. It even comes with a mini-stylus to help navigate the menus on its 3.5in colour screen.

Parvus isn’t pitching the Zypad at gadget freaks looking for the latest toy – the company believes the military-grade device comes into its own in professional environments. “It has multiple applications – there’s a lot of focus on the military, allowing soldiers to maintain communications. It can also be used in the medical market, allowing doctors and nurses to instantly check a patient’s notes,” says a Parvus spokesperson.

The company claims the convenience of wearable gadgets makes them an attractive option for mobile workers. “You can be continually working and have a PC on your wrist. You don’t have to reach for your computer, it’s right there.” The Parvus spokesman also claims that the Zypad overcomes the power-consumption problems of tablets and laptops. “When your arm is down by your side, it has a tilt sensor that blanks the screen and conserves the battery.”

Parvus says the Zypad, which is manufactured by Italian firm Eurotech, is just the first of many similar devices to come. “Technological development has obviously been a big factor in making things smaller and more powerful. It’s been imagined for years – this Dick Tracy-kind of technology – and now we can finally do it.”

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