Midday Report: Tech Companies Exploring Wearable Devices

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What's the next big thing? A number of companies are placing bets on wearable technology.

Many tech players, big and small, are trying to get out in front of this and make it into a trend. Reports today say Samsung is developing a wearable, digital smartwatch.

It raises images of comic book heroes like Dick Tracy, or the possibility that we'll all look like Secret Service agents – talking to our wrists while trying to look normal.
at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 13, 2012. The 2012 CES trade show features 2,700 global technology companies presenting consumer tech products and is expected to draw over 140,000 attendees. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
Daniel Acker, Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sources say the Samsung device will perform many of the tasks of a smartphone. And it wouldn't be Samsung's first attempt in this area. Four years ago it launched a touch-screen watchphone in Europe, but it didn't attract many buyers. Microsoft (MSFT) also tested one a decade ago, without much success.

Still, this could represent the next big battleground between Samsung and Apple (AAPL). The two companies have been battling for supremecy in the smartphone market.

But there are lots of questions about a watchphone. Will the technology be good enough to make people want yet another device? Will the battery last long enough so that users don't get too frustrated? And, will younger people, who have for the most part not been watch wearers, take to the concept? Basically, will a smartwatch have the 'cool' factor needed to make it the next big thing?

Analysts say the upcoming wristphones won't replace your smartphone. Rather, they are likely to connect to it through a Bluetooth-like device, so that you can more easily keep track of email, text messages and phone calls.

There are several wearable devices already on the market. Sony (SNE) has a Smartwatch that works with Android-based phones. You can see who's calling without reaching for the phone itself, and get social media updates. It costs $130 dollars.

And there's a start-up company, Pebble, that offers a wristwatch that wirelessly syncs with either an Android or an iPhone.

There are also several wearable devices that can track blood sugar and other medical problems.

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6 Ways Google Glass Will Change the Way You Shop
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Midday Report: Tech Companies Exploring Wearable Devices


Your smartphone already allows you to do instant price comparisons at the store, usually by scanning a barcode. There are several  apps that let you "showroom" in this way.

We don't know which, if any, will be available for Glass. But assuming one of these apps gets ported over to the new hardware, you'll be able to get price comparisons just by picking up a product and looking at the barcode.

And it doesn't end there. A couple of those apps -- including Google's own shopping app -- are able to recognize the covers of books, DVDs, CDs and games, which means you don't even need to find and focus on the barcode. So, for example, if you find a book on the shelf and want to see if it's cheaper online, you could just look at it, whisper a command, and immediately have a bunch of price comparisons floating in your field of vision. And you'd also be able to call up reviews, too, so you won't have to rely on those selectively quoted blurbs that publishers choose.

Want to buy those jeans, but aren't sure if you're close to the limit of your monthly clothes budget? Several personal finance tools allow you to keep track of your budget, and this strikes us as a perfect use for Glass. Imagine if you could just say, "Okay, Glass, bring up Mint and show me how much I've spent on clothes this month."

And sometimes it's not just a matter of budgets -- you also want to make sure you don't overdraw your account or spend so much that you don't have enough left over for food. If your online banking app becomes compatible with Glass, perhaps you could see your checking account balance floating before your eyes with equal ease.

People tend to behave better when they know they're on video, and if you're wearing Glass, the person behind the customer service desk has to assume they're being filmed.

Hopefully, that doesn't lead to people harassing put-upon customer service reps by demanding preferential treatment, lest they post videos of their bad experiences on YouTube. But insofar as it keeps companies honest and helps ensure they follow their own stated policies, perhaps the knowledge that employees are on Google's candid camera can be a good thing.

But the contribution Glass could make to customer service goes beyond just filming disputes: Customer service technology firm Genesys recently floated a couple of scenarios in a blog post. A customer trying to assemble a cable box, for instance, could beam his or her field of vision to technical support staff, who would then be able to see the problem and direct the customer on what to do next. They also suggest that a hotel guest out and about with Glass could send live video to a concierge, who could then identify what part of town  he was in, and recommend restaurants and attractions on the block.


Google+ hasn't exactly taken off like the company might have hoped, but the social network did give us one great feature: live group video chats, known as Hangouts. While they usually consist of an array of faces, Hangouts on Google Glass are turned inside-out, allowing you to instead share your point of view with the other participants.

In demos of the feature, Google used it to dramatic effect, showing a hangout with a group of skydivers as they jumped out of a plane. But we're envisioning a more mundane application: Trying on clothes.

If your friends couldn't join you on a shopping expedition, you can put on that dress, initiate a Hangout, look in the mirror and then get live feedback from a panel of friends. We see this being a particularly potent tool for personal shoppers who can't always be physically present with their clients.

One application of Glass is having your grocery list right there on a heads-up display, which means you don't have to look down at a list on your smartphone or on a piece of paper. But no one's going to spend more than a thousand bucks on Google Glass just to replace a sticky note on their shopping cart.

Fortunately, the most recent demos of the product have touted the inclusion of Evernote. The popular note-taking app allows you to put together to-do lists that include voice memos and photographs, and they can also be shared across multiple users. We imagine you could go to the grocery store with your wife and split up to divide and conquer; as each of you picks up items, you can tell Glass to check it off the list, and the other person will see that it's in the cart.

There are other ways it could help you coordinate your grocery shopping expedition. Let's say your wife sent you to the store to pick up pancake mix, but you don't know which kind she wants you to get. Instead of calling her and reading off every brand and variety in front of you, you can just initiate a video call and look at the pancake section; she'll see what you see, and be able to tell you which one to get.

The grocery store applications don't end there.

Perhaps you get to the grocery store and see they're having a big sale on chicken thighs. Being the frugal sort, you decide to pick some up, but you're not sure what to do with them.

Tell Glass to run a Google search for recipes featuring chicken thighs. Scroll through, pick one, then copy the ingredient list to your shopping list. Now you can get all your ingredients.

Once you get home, you can have the recipe right in your eye when you need to reference it, with no need to have a laptop or cookbook taking up valuable counter space or getting sauce spilled on it. And if you don't know the proper technique for deboning those chicken thighs, you can cue up an instructional video on YouTube without ever having to touch a computer with your slimy chicken hands.

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