Back in the 1990s, I had a Cassiopeia. From Casio, that pillar of computing technology and shitty keyboards. And based on the fact that I still need help spelling Cassiopeia every time, you can tell that this was an era before technology makers learned about product naming and brand awareness.
I'm looking at you, Wang.
The Cassiopeia was a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) from the Microsoft Pocket PC line that ran little, tiny, almost useless versions of desktop software. I had owned PDAs before, but this was the first one I brought home and thought:
"You know what, you shove a phone in this, and you've got yourself a winner."
But it was a terrible device. Clunky to hold and use, and portable in the sense that you had to tether to your PC for updates. But back then, your PC was the size of a bookcase, so by comparison the Pocket PC seemed like the flux capacitor.
Years later, about two years before the iPhone, Samsung would shove a phone into a Pocket PC. It was awful. But back then, since the best thing you could do on your dumbphone was play Snake and call people, it was awesome.
Anyhow, over the weekend, leaks emerged documenting the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch, and it looks and probably acts like the world's smallest mobile phone stapled to a wristband. Maybe this is what they're shooting for, and if so, they're way off, but I'll get into that later.
The point is, this device will be on the market shortly, joining smartwatches from Pebble and Sony, timed prematurely to beat Apple's iWatch to the punch, and, because it comes from the immensely popular Samsung Galaxy line, bringing renewed awareness to this subsection of what is likely to be the next step in mobile technology: Wearables.
What's That On Your Wrist and/or Face?You've seen a wearable technology, no doubt. I wear a Jawbone UP, a flexible band on my wrist that tracks my steps and my sleep. There are others like Nike Fuel or FitBit, about ten of them in all, including local startup Sqord who makes one for kids and is currently at TechStars in Chicago accelerating that plan.
The other big wearable sector is the head-mounted device, more commonly known as Google Glass (although there are others on the market), which is mainly known for needing legislation to keep it out of strip clubs and locker rooms.
As ridiculed as Glass is and for all the skeptics, the fact of the matter is that this technology emerged light-years ahead of its use cases. As a result, you've got a technology ready for mass-market, although niche mass market, and developers can't move fast enough to bring application, not apps, but real-world application to Glass. Way late.
You didn't get a warning with Glass, you're getting a warning with smartwatches, because wearables have been around for a couple years. If you're clever, you're already figuring out use cases yourself and developing something to meet those needs.
Step 3: Profit.
Just please don't make smartphone apps for it. This isn't a smartphone.
Somewhere Between Sensor and SmartphoneMy UP has no display. None. But even though I haven't worn a watch in about 15 years, when someone asks me what time it is, I still lift my wrist, expecting my UP to, I don't know, talk to me or something.
In other words, I think wrist-based wearables need some kind of display. Vibration feedback is good, and the UP has a single button - end of input - which works for what it does. The UP primarily acts as a semi-programmable sensor. For feedback, I go to the app on my smartphone.
This is where the smartwatch makes perfect sense. Visual or audio feedback is the next logical step in wearables, even for the limited feedback we want out of this generation.
Show me my steps. Show me my sleep. Show me the time if it's not too much trouble.
But the Samsung Galaxy Gear is overload. Granted, I've only seen leaked pictures and specs, but we don't need a smartphone on our wrists. Much as the smartphone replicated a slice of computing technology which allowed me to leave my laptop behind in certain circumstances, the smartwatch should replicate a narrower subset of technology that precludes me from having to carry my smartphone.
The most popular current activity where you don't want your be toting your phone is athletics. I don't want my breakable, bulky phone on me when I'm playing a sport or working out (although ironically, the GPS and music player technology have made my phone indispensable for running).
But that's today. There are all kinds of use cases, just waiting to be discovered, in which a smartwatch makes much more sense than a smartphone.
And the touchscreen interaction is slick, but the input paradigm is going to have to change. No keyboard, of course, but voice and swipe commands will allow you to interact with the device and even other devices -- like your television.
In this, Samsung already has two intriguing apps on the Galaxy S4: S Health, which tracks your steps and other health-related items, and WatchON, which can interact with your on-demand providers and even your television. Both of these work extremely well from the smartphone and neither needs something as complex as a smartphone to operate.
The Gear also allegedly has a 4MP camera, speakers, Samsung Voice Command, social media apps, and integration with the Galaxy line of phones and tablets -- all of which could be exploited.
Oh, it has 10 hours of battery life, allegedly, which is a dealbreaker.
But then, remember, I don't want you to rush out and buy this. I want you to start thinking about developing for it. And for that matter all smartwatches.
Because the age of the smartwatch is coming, and no one has nailed how we're going to to use them yet. Samsung just gave you about a year head-start. If you can look at this Cassiopeia of smartwatches and see the iPhone, then you've got a good chance of getting in on the ground floor.