Wearable Computers Are the Next Hot Trend

Andrés is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

The computer industry has seen a tremendous degree of disruption and innovation over the last years, with smartphones and tablets starting to replace PCs to a considerable degree as consumers shift towards mobile devices and leave their traditional computers on the desktop. Smart glasses and watches have a lot to offer to consumers, and it’s only natural to believe they should be the next phase when it comes to innovation.

Besides, there are already some important advancements in those kind of technologies as well as a red hot rumor mill about all kind of developments from the big tech players. Let’s take a look at some relevant trends to watch in the middle term.

The Much Rumored iWatch

Watches have been rumored to be the next big area of computing innovation for a long time, and Sony (NYSE: SNE) has recently launched its Android operated smart watch which has received mixed critiques in terms of hardware and overall design, but still proving that smart watches can be a very useful product.

The watch can be used to rapidly access notifications regarding phone calls, emails or tweets without needing to pull your smartphone out of your pocket or purse, and it can be particularly useful in certain situations like driving. Besides, it has a great Google Maps application which integrates smoothly with the GPS, making it a winner when it comes to mapping and location functionalities.

According to data from Chinese publication 163.com, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) will release a wrist watch powered by Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) in the first half of 2013, complete with a 1.5-inch OLED display and low-power Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity.

The Chinese portal says that Intel is responsible for the design, and Apple is interested in building it. This is not how things usually happen at Cupertino, Apple likes to take care of the design and then find suppliers to handle the manufacturing part, so this project, even if true, won't probably be the definitive version of an iWatch.

But the rumors do have some legs, Apple has included Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology across its product lines like the new MacBook Pro laptops, the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad and iPad mini. Bluetooth 4.0 wireless radio technology comes with Bluetooth low energy (BLE), which is chiefly aimed at low-power and low-latency applications for wireless devices within a short range.

There are some smart watches in the market - like Metawatch and Pebble - which are designed to connect and interact with the iPhone. If consumers demand these kinds of products, Apple won't stay on the sidelines, as it famously aims to achieve strict control of the complete user experience. If someone can deliver a beautiful watch as the ultimate accessory for an iPhone, that's clearly Apple.

Computerized Glasses

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is ahead of the pack when it comes to computerized glasses, and the company has made some fantastic shows about the amazing possibilities of its Google Glass project. Glasses are the ultimate opportunity for innovation in wearable computers, and investors in Google have good motives to feel optimistic about its long term prospects for growth in that area.

Although nobody has a specific timeline for a commercial launch in computerized glasses, Babak Parviz a key engineer working on that project, has revealed some interesting information in a recent interview with IEEE Spectrum.

According to Paraviz, Google is not planning to include augmented reality in the first version of Google Glasses, and no advertising either. The engineer claims that the product is designed to allow people to connect to others with images and video and to access information at unmatchable speed. Parviz also said that Google is “very interested” in  providing the hardware, which gives some clues about the possible business model the company has in mind for its Google Glass project.

It looks like Google is trying to take an incremental approach to the commercial version of the product, leaving advertising aside and integrating both hardware and software. This sounds more business-like and not so futuristic, so maybe Google Glasses are closer to reaching the markets than most analysts believe.

Other big players are also working on glasses; Apple has filed repeated patents for displays that are embedded in glasses. The company was also given a patent for a “peripheral treatment for head-mounted displays” that can be used to project an image into someone’s eye in July of 2012.

Even Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) filed a patent last November for “a computer implemented method providing supplemental information to a user with a head mounted display viewing a live event.” This sounds very similar to other patents related to computerized glasses, and an indication of interest from the main players in the tech industry.

Bottom Line

Wearable devices are the next frontier of innovation in computing, and they have enormous benefits for consumers when it comes to navigation, social networking, commerce, and media among other things. Investors need to watch this trend closely, as it may be the basis for the coming platform war over the next years.


acardenal owns shares of Apple and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, Intel, and Microsoft and is short Sony (ADR) and has the following options: long JAN 2013 $22.00 calls on Sony (ADR). Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Apple, Google, Intel, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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