Category Archives: Wearables
A couple of weeks ago a friend and I journeyed into the exhibition centre here in Melbourne to check out the second annual Tech + Gadget expo and it’s clear that we have some work to do as far as consumer electronics is concerned. The expo had a range of technology on show from VR to Home Automation but it lacked contributions from many major developers and a huge variety of products in some areas. The only categories which may be exceptions were Drones and motorised bikes and skateboards these combined seemed to make up more than half of the expo floor. Presumably this focus may have been the result of trying to cater for families as these products could easily be considered kid friendly. On this point the expo was definitely successful since their were copious amounts of kids and teenagers walking around with a new drone tucked under the arm. At least the expo is a starting point and with clear development from last years inaugural event the future looks good. So here are the few of my observations:
The first thing we were confronted with when we entered was e2media’s VR Land which combines VR with hydrologic movement and surround sound to immerse people in an experience. It was worth a wait in line as the pendulum experience we had was powerful enough to make us both a bit motion sick. This might seem counter productive as you may ask why feeling sick would every be considered a good sign, but just go to a theme park and ask anyone who has left a ride feeling a bit queasy. Nearby another major VR player, the HTC Vive provided visitors with more of a home based experience by pairing the headset with controllers for uses to play a range of different games. Finally, Phoria rounded out the category and offered uses a bit more of an understanding of the potential application for VR in a variety of different industries. Despite the clear presence of VR at the expo there were a few noticeable absences from all ends of the spectrum as there was no Galaxy VR or Oculus rift in terms of headsets and there was no sign of any of the mixed reality products about to flood the market in the USA due to Microsoft’s partnership with OEMs. On an experience side Zero latency a clear Leader in VR in Melbourne offering a full immersed experience who could have easily used the event for promotion was also nowhere to be seen. If you haven’t had the pleasure of a full blown VR experience killing zombies it is a must so follow the link, gather your mates and book a session.
Starting as cheap as $50, drones were everywhere last weekend and with a test area provided a great hand on opportunity for the hordes of visitors it perhaps was not really a surprise. Personally, I’m still a little confounded by the popularity of Drones as it either suggests that everyone is a bit of a voyeur or are fascinated with remote control helicopters. The expo was my real first up-close look at a wide range of drones and I am still puzzled by the fascination as the range, 8-12min flight time and likelihood of being lost don’t seem to make a compelling case. On the other hand, the discounted price on offer at several booths with a fully equipped drone with altitude hold for less than $100 made tempting to get one and see the fascination for myself.
There were two main exceptions to most Drones on show. The first being the range of devices from DJI which included the Spark, Inspire 2 and Phantom 4. All of which come with advance intelligent flight technology including Tapfly, which allows the user to control flight direction by a simple tap on the live feed, Flight anatomy, which allows the drone to detect and avoid obstacles, Activetrack and return home. The Inspire 2 and Phantom 4 advanced are capable of 4k video at 60fps and around 30min of flight time which gives them more potential for serious applications in film, sport and industries like tourism.
On the complete other end of the spectrum is the Airblock, a modular drone made of magnetic parts which can be disassembled and reassembled in a variety of ways. Unlike most of the other drones the Airblock does not include a camera and is marketed as a toy for stunts and races. The app even provides users with the opportunity to learn basic coding. Relying on Bluetooth and the uses phone the range of Airblock is limited to 15m horizontal and 5m vertical which is perfect for anyone looking for a bit of fun who doesn’t want to intrude on their neighbours. Not to mention if you follow the link to their Kickstarter page
Tesla was the major player in automotive represented at the expo with both the Model S and Model X on show. Once you get a closer look at the inside of the Model X it’s clear that cars fit a luxury market. Strictly from a design standpoint both cars share a uniqueness which is pushed further on the Model X SUV that lacks the raised cabin of other more traditional manufacturers and narrows towards the rear of the car. This is topped off with the vertically opening doors that are reminiscent of a DeLorean except that they fold and slide down at the middle. It’s certainly unique but as car enthusiasts neither my friend and I thought it looked like an attractive “sexy” car. Obviously, this is not the reason to purchase an electric car but since it starts at $134000 for a 75kWh battery in Australia it is something that consumers think about.
The only other real display was from Toyota demonstrating the alternative to electric cars with the hydrogen powered Mirai. Not surprisingly the Mirai looks a little more mainstream and the technology is far more adventurous as it produces electricity rather than relying on the grid. Unfortunately, it is even further away from adaption in Australia as while charge stations are very rare and often need an grade to existing infrastructure for home installation, Hydrogen stations are not existent. No matter which way the future goes its clear that Australia will be lagging while that might be a tragedy for the environment the car enthusiasts in me that gets excited by the sound of a combustion engine or the look of Muscle Cars has a wry little smile.
Of course, there was other car tech around like the odd dash cam and Navdy heads up display. It was hardly an extensive range with only one booth and personally I feel there is scope in this category for development. Especially in trying to develop a long-lasting battery-operated dash cam because personally while every day on the road I’m reminded the of the value of dash cams but there is no way I’m running a cable from my windscreen to my centre console or paying more than the device is worth to get it installed, but maybe I’m being superficial. I doubt I’m the only one.
e-bikes & e-skateboards
To be honest this was an area I had very little interest in as even more than drones I just don’t see the point and that’s trying to be kind, since it could be said their raising popularity of a society that is become lazy. In some ways, perhaps an e-bike in the city makes some sense to avoid congestion but in most cases, I’ve still got to wounder why people just wouldn’t ride a normal bike. However, even this reasoning doesn’t explain the fascination with e-skateboards or Segway’s Firstly anyone using the later just look ridiculous and is a danger to themselves and others while the former seem like cashed up wannabe skaters.
Despite my personal ideas about such things the category was well represented with everything from skateboards with large Segway style wheels to those resembling their more traditional cousin with artistically designed decks. The inclusion of a test tract was a master stroke as I witnessed hordes of teens testing out anything that had at least two wheels. This is ultimately the key to sales, put the product in people’s hands and no doubt a few stalls cultivated a bit of interest.
One of the more underrepresented categorise at the expo which is surprising considering the proliferation of fitness trackers and among other things. Firstly, none of the major brands were in attendance and secondly even most of the more niche makers who focus on fitness trackers like Garmin weren’t present either. The only watch like device on show was the HELO LX which is more health monitor than smartwatch in the true sense as it is not used to check emails or make calls. Instead the HELO LX is an active health monitor which tracks blood pressure, EKG, fatigue and soon your blood alcohol level, the later especially I’m sure received some interest from visitors. These features make it a unique but very niche product as realistically the average user is not going to want all this info at their finger tips but for anyone with health problems it is likely the least invasive solution.
The other main piece of wearable technology that peaked my interest as a bit of a GYM junkie was 776bc and their range of active wear. Beyond state of the art compression tights the motion range uses biometric markers to allow you to film, annotate and compare your form to range of athletes. It is defiantly a worth while concept especially if your semi serious about your regime or a technical sport like rowing. However, it is worth noting that there are other products out like Athos training gear that has built in senses to track muscle effort and heart rate at a less affordable price or something like the Lumo Run which is more affordable but provides specialist data for running. Regardless of the merits of each brand it would have been good to see all these different smart clothing options in person just have a look at a few of the other options creeping onto the market with this list from wearable.com.
Unfortunately, the field I was most interested in was also the most poorly represented. Despite the presence of a Philips hue and Google Home display connected to Harvey Norman the Telstra booth was really the only one booth worth discussing. The telco set up a pop up lounge room to display its new smart hub subscription service complete with electric door locks, video cameras, thermostat and lights. The service starting at $25 a month for a starter kit looks like it might be the most cost-effective way to get started but the price could easily add up once you start adding components. Personally, it just made me think about researching other options like the Winx hub 2 among others which will defiantly cost more in the short term but has a wider range of compatible devices.
Unfortunately, Australia doesn’t have a history in consumer electronics and it shows at the Tech + Gadget expo if you compare it to anything overseas. However, it has almost doubled in size from the inaugural event last year so hopefully this means that we can continue to develop change thus perception as there was enough of a turnout to suggest that it is worth the investment.
Microsoft’s long awaited Windows 10 devices launch did not fail to impress. The software giant rolled out a raft of devices from phones to wearables as expected with predictable specs but managed to still give us a few surprises. In every way possible the team nailed this recent set of announcements in order to maintain the positive coverage from the tech world which is always ready to label the company irrelevant. So lets break it down …
Microsoft Band 2
The companies first wearable had a very limited availability, limited to the US and UK but from all reports the performance was never really the issue. Made as a fitness tracker and not a watch the band was always designed to be warn with the screen facing in for more natural experience while working out. To achieve this the original hardware squeezed 10 sense s into a clumsy design which people never felt very comfortable wearing. Obviously satisfied by the performance of version 1 the new and improved Band 2 seems like it has received a little more love with a rounded and premium design with a streamlined metal body, curved display and flexible straps. In addition the team has some how managed to include a new elevation sensor to help those who train at different altitudes. Finally, the Band 2 retains the best part of the original device as it is cross – compatible with iOS and Android and is therefore not necessarily tied to the fate of Windows Mobile. The Band has to date been the only wearable that has really caught my attention as it aims to serve a specific purpose but provides more functionality then other fitness trackers like Fitbit. At the same time it doesn’t try to become a fashion accessory, personally I’m sticking with my Armani to give me that added flare. Now that they have refined the design I’m definitely still keen if it lands in Oz soon.
By now we are pretty used to Microsoft showing off mind blowing HoloLens demos but lets face it, we shouldn’t complain. This time the show focused on Multi-reality gaming with Project X-Ray where your entire house can become your new battle ground. Personally this is where the untethered nature of HoloLens really has an advantage over virtual reality headsets as you can more easily move into different rooms and interact unrestricted with the experience. The gameplay itself is pretty straight forward but is definitely cool, robots burst through the walls and hide behind your couch before you blast them in to holographic pieces. It really has me thinking about the possibilities, a police raid in your own house or a personalised hostage situation. More importantly, Microsoft finally gave us some release details with the developer kit available in the first quarter next year for $3000. It’s not cheap but since Google Glass was $1500 and that was nowhere near the level of HoloLens so I won’t be surprised if developers jump on board.
Lumia 950 and 950XL
Unsurprisingly the specs for these new Lumia Flagships like the new design for the Microsoft Band 2 had already spread all over the Internet but it always helps to get things confirmed. The 950 has an hexacore snapdragon 808 processor, and a 5.2 WQHD OLED display while the XL comes with an octacore processor, 5.7 display and liquid cooling. In addition both phones have a 20 megapixel PureView camera with optical stabilization, USB – C connections, 3 GB of Ram, wireless charging, Windows Hello facial recognition, duel adaptive antennas and 32 GB expandable memory. None of these specs seem ground-breaking on their own but as International Business Times points out they still slightly edge out the competition from Apple and Samsung. Even so some other media reports are disappointed expecting a killer feature and a ‘premium’ Surface like design rather then the continued use of polycarbonate.
Firstly, I see the duel antenna as a welcome addition if it successfully works to improve signal quality as I have always felt that it is a annoying weakness of modern smartphones that it was easier to have a conversation with someone over a phone call 15 years ago. Personally the killer feature of these phones comes from the software as Continuum allows both handsets to connect with a keyboard and mouse through the dock and drive a desktop experience through Windows 10, but every other phone on the market can do this right?. Technically this means that with the right app you can edit, print or easily manipulate photos and documents without syncing your devices. Now you can be “productive like a Boss where ever you are”, at least that’s the idea. Unfortunately, most people probably only want to use their phone as a phone so I don’t know how much traction it will get in the consumer market but it is definitely great for the enterprise sector.
I find the second criticism ridiculous and largely perpetrated by those people who have never used a Lumia device beyond a review unit, having owned a HTC Mozart, Lumia 610, Lumia 920 and a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge I still consider the polycarbonate 920 my favourite. Mainly because of the solid build quality as regardless of how many times I dropped it over the 3 or so years with out any form of case the 920 still works fine if only for the aging specs. Meanwhile the HTC lasted just over a year before a fall from a coffee table shattered the screen and made it unusable similarly one fall from a car door has left my Galaxy 6 edge with clear blemish to it’s stunning screen. This is not to mention the fact that my Galaxy like most other phones is kept neatly covered by a case so I can preserve the “premium” design, something I never even considered with my Lumia. Now don’t get me wrong the Galaxy S6 is a fantastic phone and I don’t have any regrets but I’m using it to make a point that the Lumia Line has a well know track record for taking a beating which I think is more important. After all if your buying a phone for the looks you probably don’t know anything about performance and are too concerned with your own status unfortunately this probably includes a good portion of the mobile marketplace. Sorry for the rant but every time I hear or read comments about premium materials and beautiful shiny designs I can’t help getting angry at people’s stupidity as I am a very practical person.
Admittedly apps still remain a problem for Microsoft’s mobile strategy and it’s not TV surprising that they find themselves at something of a cross roads. Both realising the importance of getting their services onto other ecosystems while trying to use the universal capacity of Windows 10 to breath some life into their own platform. The word out of Microsoft is that they aren’t expecting much from the new handsets but it allows them to create a bundle for enterprise customers interested in the surface line. We shall have to wait and see over the next couple of months but they will continue to make little progress if they can’t get Google, carriers and OEM’s on board in order to encourage developers. Hopefully the new tools to port Android and iOS apps to Windows will help as I think consumer’s will benefit from increased competition if Microsoft can start gaining even a little bit of traction in mobile.
I always seem to go into way too much detail, but stay tuned for part 2 as I look at the Surface announcements from Microsoft’s event.
I’m normally not the first to jump in and defend Apple but in general I have to agree with Yoni Heisler from BGR. It is obvious that most media outlets and techsperts had an unrealistic expection for the Apple Watch. These were based on prejections using the success of unrelated product categories like the iPhone and iPad. Instead what they should have been focusing on is the actual demand for wearbles themselves as a category. As I have stated before wearbles suffer from a clear identity problem as all their primary functions can be carried out by existing technology and in most cases wearbles require a tethered device (iPhone) negating any real advantage.
This is largely the reason for unrealistic expectations but there are definitely things that Apple can change to help improve sales going forward. Yoni makes a comparison between the Apple Watch and iPod which he points out didn’t really start gain traction untill 2004. Unfortunately, Yoni doesn’t explain the steps taken by Apple, namely the release of iTunes for Windows in late 2003 and the release of the cheaper iPod Mini in 2004. This comparison provides a lesson for Apple as the solution seems simple, by shifting their strategy to provide a solution to Andriod users (like Windows years ago) they would greatly increase the size of their potential customer base. Obviously that doesn’t mean all Andriod users are going to jump at the opportunity to buy an Apple product but some will always be ready to look for the best product so if priced competively it would definitely improve sales.
By now everyone should have heard something about the two new pieces of hardware announced by Microsoft yesterday, especially HoloLens so I’m not simply going to repeat everything from the Keynote. Looking at both these devices they have their links to existing products on the market but seem to take the next step and extend their ability to actually fulfil a practical purpose.
Microsoft first new piece of hardware has been lost under the shadow of their second announcement as it lacks the eye-catching feel of innovation. Unfortunately that’s what will happen when you reveal something that looks a bit like a TV or giant tablet so hopefully I can put it into some perspective. Firstly, the Surface Hub has an 84 inch 4K display and comes with built-in NFC, WiFi, cameras, microphones and everything else you can come up with all in an easy to install package (one wire). This actually means that you can send and receive data from the Surface Hub any number of ways without too much difficulty regardless of the type of other devices you may be using.
The key difference between the Surface Hub and other conferencing solutions on the market is that you don’t need to have a companion device. Since the Hub runs Windows 10 you have access to shared files for presentations, you can use a variety of apps and easily Skype with colleagues. Despite this there will be times when you still need or want to connect a laptop to the Surface Hub especially if you’re just visiting a workplace or like my situation changing classrooms every 40 minutes, in these situations you can take advantage of the ink back feature. If you haven’t guessed it the Hub supports pen input, allowing OneNote to operate like a whiteboard, but ink back means any notes you add-on the screen will be included on the original document on the laptop.
These are some of the features and possibilities which separate the Surface Hub from the current smorgasbord of Smart TV’s, interactive whiteboards or Apple TV connected screen that are used in classrooms around the country. Microsoft’s keynote focused on the advantage for business but I see a great application for the classroom as long as they don’t price it out of the market. Based on my experience the Surface Hub solves all the issues of using technology in the classroom as you don’t need to mess around with cables or make a choice between functionality. Even the ability to forward information from OneNote to students is a god send as it eliminates the need for the distraction of students taking photos of class notes. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the Surface Hub develops and have my figures crossed for a reasonable price tag so I can play with one in the not to distant future at work.
Check out Dan Costa’s hands on at PC Mag if you want to know more.
Moving on to the surprise of the event, there had been rumours about Microsoft working on a VR headset over the last 6 months but none of them even came close to discovering the truth about HoloLens. It still amazes me that they have been able to keep this secret for 7 years, since everything in technology now days from Project Spartan to the two size of the iPhone 6 are known well before they are announced.
HoloLens seems like an advanced 3D form of augmented reality were everything becomes a screen for apps like Netflicks or uses your environment to allow you to interact with a world of possibilities. It seems to share more with Google Glass than any of the VR headsets being developed at the moment as it is completely untethered by wires and is based on interacting with your environment rather than sending you to another world. On display at the event was Skype, Minecraft and a 3D design studio called Holo Studio however the most amazing application is Onsight a 3D exploration of Mars. This last example probably shows the greats application for schools as I could imagine exploring historical sights like the Pompeii from your classroom.
Despite the wow factor and Microsoft unexpectedly breaking new ground our information on HoloLens is still limited. It runs Windows 10 holographic which is based on the same design language so app development should be straight forward but there are no specific details as how it might be used as an Xbox One streaming device or other apps that will be available on launch. We also don’t really know how it works besides the addition of the third holographic processing unit or what this will mean for battery life.
As it stands HoloLens has tons of potential but until we know more, including price and distribution it hard to tell whether it will be the next big thing or just a gimmick like Glass. At least we should not have to wait long as Microsoft have stated that HoloLens will be deployed within the Windows 10 release window.
Some iSheep will buy anything, but that doesn’t mean everything Apple touches turns to gold the last couple of versions of the iPad has proven as their market share and sales have been disappointing. What Apple needs for the Apple watch to be a success is a perceived need for the category. The reason why most wearables have not run of the shelves is simply that people do not see value in having something on the wrist that is a limited version of their phone with a smaller screen.
The only area where they have got any real traction has been as a fitness device which is not going to encourage people to fork out $300 plus an iPhone. This is also an area where Apple’s own marketing strategy will be against them because the Apple watch will not convince more people to change from Android to iPhone and has simply just narrowed an already limited market.
Finally the idea that the apple watch will be fashion accessory is laughable as at this price point in the form of a watch it is competing with anything from Armani to Citizen so the only people who would actually think this as cool would be diehards and tech nerds. So it might sell reasonably well with the iSheep but they have already sold their soul to the ecosystem and just want new things to show off, so it does not translate to a mass market trend. Until it hits markets I’m only speculating but it think those who are expecting a run away success are a little delusional.