The wristwatch will rise again

If you've got the time, read why a new era of wristwatches is at hand

The Timberland HT2 wristwatch gives you the time in several time zones, your altitude, the temperature and barometer readings, a stopwatch and even a compass.

The Timberland HT2 wristwatch gives you the time in several time zones, your altitude, the temperature and barometer readings, a stopwatch and even a compass.

Why the wristwatch will rise again

Miniaturization technology created the smartphone revolution, and miniaturization technology will destroy it.

Using a cell phone to tell the time isn't ideal. For example, you can't check the time during a movie without annoying others. While you can use the smartphone to measure your speed and distance while jogging, you have to leave it behind when swimming.

As the process of miniaturization continues, we will think less about cramming everything into a single device and more about invisible, ubiquitous and pervasive technologies distributed all over our bodies.

Fitness sensors will be built into our shoes. Cameras will find their way into eyeglasses and sunglasses. Music playing electronics will be sewn into our clothing. But most of all, all kinds of stuff will be crammed into the wristwatches of tomorrow.

It's likely that the first wave of this all-over-your-body technology will use smartphones as a kind of Internet-connected command center.

A new Bluetooth 4.0 specification was approved in July that will make it much easier for very small devices to communicate with each other wirelessly. Specifically, the new spec enables devices powered by standard watch batteries to communicate via Bluetooth. It's also faster.

Other technologies are dramatically improving the prospects for wrist gadgets. For example, Seiko will soon ship a wristwatch with an E-paper display. The Active Matrix EPD's high-resolution screen has a much wider viewing angle than LCD technology and uses far less power. In fact, the Seiko watch will run on solar power. The watch also sets itself via the radio connection to the nearest atomic clock.

The Seiko watch provides a good standard template for the wristwatch of the future: high-resolution screen, and no need to ever charge it or set it. Now imagine adding to that a constant Bluetooth connection to your smartphone, displaying caller ID, text messages, and even data from whatever apps you have running on the phone. As a wristwatch, you could change the style of the face in software to match every occasion.

Meanwhile, other advances favor the wristwatch comeback. Scientists are shrinking everything, including memory. Within a few years, wristwatches will contain gigabytes of RAM and storage.

These developments will bring new players into them wristwatch industry, most interestingly consumer electronics companies like Sony and Apple.

HP has already announced it is developing a wristwatch for the U.S. military that has a flexible display, will run on solar energy and may enable videoconferencing, among other things. The company has promised a prototype within a year.

Many of the existing gadgets that exist on the periphery, but are generally not purchased by ordinary consumers, will probably become mainstream in the next few years as they get far better and cheaper. For example, cell phone wristwatches, HD video camera wristwatches -- even the long sought after Dick Tracy phone. Think of iPhone's FaceTime on your wrist.

Major-brand consumer electronics on your wrist is the Next Big Thing in consumer electronics. And why not? The wrist is a great place to put a gadget.

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Mike Elgan

Computerworld (US)
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