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The future of watches?

The Casio CA53W-1 (C) Casio

Many of you will no doubt recall the Casio and Pulsar databank watches from the 1980s. These “wrist computers” were large, bulky, plastic gadgets that stored (up to) 30 phone numbers, completed basic calculations and included multiple time zones, chronos, countdowns and associated alarms. In fact, everything the business (wo)man of the Eighties needed, but couldn’t fit into his (or her) briefcase, because all the available space had been taken up by his (or her) mobile ‘phone and the planet-sized battery required to power it. Since then, not much has changed: watches are still largely for telling the time and ‘phones are still the size of Belgium. Ish. 

However, the dream of wearable tech just won’t die. We may not yet be the ‘gargoyles’ that Neal Stephenson envisaged in Snow Crash, but we’re not far off it, with an increasing number of applications using augmented reality to various degrees, and many people seemingly plugged into their ‘phones almost permanently. The only difference being that computer power and technology has largely been aimed at mobile (smart) ‘phones, and not at watches. Until recently, that is, when Kickstarter and other micro-VC ‘sites began to be inundated with ideas to use the iPod Nano as a watch. Simply fashion a suitable holder, attach a strap, et voilà. A ‘watch’ that also plays music, video and even tells the time. 

The Meta Watch (TM) Fossil Watches

But, according to at least one set of developers, the technology-based opportunities of the wristwatch do not end there. Fossil Watches and Texas Instruments would like to use the wristwatch as an additional screen for your ‘phone. A mini version of it, that’s attached via Bluetooth and can run apps hosted on your smartphone. They call it the ‘Meta Watch‘. And it may just be the future of wristwatches… I must admit that I’m not entirely sure whether the “meta” in Meta Watch refers to the device being somehow beyond normal watches, or merely some uber-self referential item (after all, the current concept device is entirely referential – if only to the host ‘phone). Either way, it’s certainly a clever idea, and one that seems to be rapidly growing in followers. The device is certainly very, very interesting. 

Ana-digi version

In effect, it’s simply a device that removes the need to take your ‘phone out of your jacket pocket / bag / jeans. Available in a 96×96 LCD display, or analogue-digital version (see right), the Meta Watch is quite nicely designed, and not a thousand miles away from existing models on the High Street. I don’t think it’ll be winning any awards for aesthetics, and it’s a shame that there’s no touch screen, but this is the first commercially available version. Applications running on your (Android) ‘phone can be piped via Bluetooth to the Meta Watch, displaying snippets of information, such as unread emails, messages, missed calls, etc. It’ll be brilliant for business meetings, where the surreptitious use of one’s BlackBerry is often frowned upon. No more pulling out the BB to see whether anything interesting has happened – instead, just casually glance at your wrist, notice that there’s a message waiting, and then dive into that jacket pocket to read it. With the approach that TI are taking (i.e. throwing this open to developers), you just know that there’s a killer app out there. Something so devastatingly simple that it’ll make this device indispensable. But is this the future of watches? No. I do not believe it is, as I believe that timekeeping is secondary to the concept. This may be the next iteration of wearable tech, but I can’t see it beating out the wristwatch just yet… 


the #watchnerd

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