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The wild world of wearable computers

Are you ready for talking watches, singing shoes, ringing earrings and vibrating tattoos?

By Julie Sartain, Network World
August 20, 2012 12:06 AM ET

Network World - Imagine wearing shoes that reveal your precise weight distribution when standing, walking, or running (Moticon); a tattoo that vibrates when you have incoming calls and messages (Nokia); or an armband that tracks how many calories you've burned in a day (Nike+ FuelBand).

IN PICTURES: The wild world of wearable computers

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Or, imagine wearing a stylish ring that converts to a Bluetooth earphone (O.R.B. 'Orbital Ring Bluetooth'); a silver lapis lazuli Bluetooth necklace (Novero); or a pair of video eyewear goggles that includes a handheld media player so you can watch movies up close.

Welcome to the world of wearable computers, a budding technology that's rising quickly above the horizon and "should be a priority for product strategists in the industries with the most potential for disruption and innovation," says consumer product strategist Sarah Rotman Epps, a senior analyst at Forester Research.

According to Epps, in three years, wearables will be everywhere. "Wearables are proving their utility in numerous industries," says Epps. "In the past year, consumer wearables such as the BodyMedia Armband and Nike+ FuelBand have proliferated in the health and fitness industries.

This year, we'll see wearables begin to break out of communication, health, and fitness to other verticals such as navigation, social networking, gaming, and commerce."

The Sentient World

Altimeter Group's analysts are calling this phenomenon the 'sentient world,' "because we believe it has something to do with machines thinking and communicating with us vs. just taking our instructions," says analyst Chris Silva. "Our research around this sentient world has more to do with the fact that machines and environments will begin to learn over time instead of simply anticipating our commands or making our commands easier to input."

"We believe that during the next 18 months, we'll see more and more mass-market applications for multiple sensors on and around us that will take advantage of our omnipresent connected computers (mobile) to gather and communicate data and, in later phases, begin to proactively serve us," notes Silva.

"Wearable computers are certainly getting more hype," says Gartner analyst Adib Ghubril, "But the stumbling block is form, fit, function, AND fashion. Wearable computers are as much about what they can do, as they are about self-expression, so they must not be obstructive, they must feel natural (that is, fit lightly and comfortably), and they must be stylish. In other words, I expect most of the effort to go into miniaturizing existing hardware circuitry like the built-in headset and cameras; simultaneous displays on both eyes that still allow visible light to come through and, finally, network connectivity."

So What's Hot & What's Not

"By far, the hottest new wearable computer is Google's project Glass," says Ghubril. "Imagine that you're window shopping in the afternoon and, suddenly, the address of the nearest Starbucks appears on your glasses' mounted display because, based on your purchasing trends — using your smartphone as a credit card, your smartphone knows that around this time of day, you like to have an espresso. So, it transmits the contact info of the nearest store," says Ghubril.

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