Samsung revealed a brand new product in its celebrated Galaxy line today – the Galaxy Gear. The Gear is a watch version of Samsung’s Android-based Galaxy phones. It will communicate with your phone to display text messages, emails, incoming calls, and GPS coordinates. It will also be able to run apps, such as exercise monitors that help you figure out how far you’ve run and social media apps you can check to delay having to go on said run. This likely will not be the only smart watch to hit store shelves before Christmas, as both Apple and Google are expected to announce similar devices soon. These products represent the next wave of mobile computing devices and may find fans among those who find it too inconvenient to grab their phone out of their pocket every time it chimes the arrival of a new message.
That last sentence might sound tongue-in-cheek, but I must admit, with a modicum of shame, that I’m guilty of that first-world problem. It would be so much more convenient simply to look at my wrist to see if there is an incoming message than to have to have to dig my phone out of my front pocket. What’s the big deal? Indeed, I don’t have a good answer, other than, well, I want it to be easier than that.
In Computer Science circles, convenience drives innovation. We have mobile computers, after all, because people wanted to be able to communicate, work, play, and learn wherever and whenever. We have cloud storage solutions because people want to access their important data from all their various devices wherever they might be. We have Wikipedia because the 26 volumes of Funk and Wagnall’s we picked up a volume at time as a bonus for buying so many cans of Folger’s from Dominick’s still listed Bohemia as a country. The world is immediate and ubiquitous; our computing should be, too.
The Galaxy Gear is not the first smart watch. Sony, IBM, Panasonic, and Seiko (what? No Casio?) have also offered such products in the past, though only Sony’s used the popular Android operating system. Furthermore, the smart watch is just one example of wearable computing; there have been many others. In fact, the US Military had developed and used wearable computers as early as 1989 and continues to do so today as part of their Future Force Warrior System. Several universities, including MIT and the University of Toronto, developed wrist computers in the 1990s. Last year, Google developed its Google Glasses, $1,500 eyeware capable of responding to voice commands, looking up and displaying information, and taking pictures in addition to providing prescription-enhanced vision and its own special brand of hey-look-at-me geek chic.
The technical challenges to all of these solutions have been the same: energy consumption, weight, data connectivity, and the need to conform to a comfortable, flexible, attractive, and breathable form factor. Researchers continue to look for ways to eke even more life and power out of smaller and smaller spaces. Lewis, for example, has a “Ubiquitous Computing Lab” which will look into these kinds of issues. Interestingly, the thorniest of these challenges has been the one scientists have been working on the longest: the devices’ energy consumption and the irksome limitations of battery technology. Batteries and efficiency have come a long way, with the Galaxy Gear expected to have a battery capable of powering its attractive and comfortable form for up to 25 hours. As technology improves further, this run-all-day capability might evolve into run-all-week.
My hunch is that Galaxy Gear and its smart watch competitors will prove to be attractive, “must-have” gadgets for many. Heck, I might be one of the early adopters myself. That way I’ll be able to wear those tight slacks to the club again without having to wedge my phone out of my pocket in time to snap a candid selfie with my hot little dance floor shortie. Progress!