Yes, you still look like an idiot

Sony Smart Eyeglasses
Sony showed off the second generation of its SmartEyeglasses at IFA 2014

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9 September 2014 | 0

Niall Kitson portraitThere’s still a day left to run at the IFA electronics show in Berlin, but everyone knows the jig will be up by 8pm tonight when Apple shows off its next generation iPhone and, most likely, the iWatch.

Still, there has been plenty at this year’s event to show where consumer is trending towards. We have seen new entries in the 4K TV market, Samsung’s curved TVs and smartphones, Toshiba’s budget Windows 8 tablets and the welcome return of Panasonic’s Technics brand. I’ve been tracking wearable technology closely, but for comedy more than innovation value. In fairness, that has been plenty of both.

The fascinating thing about the wearables space is that the rules have yet to be codified as they have with smartphones, PCs, tablets, printers etc etc. We don’t know what people why people would want to choose smartglasses over a set of Ray Bans, we don’t know if smartwatches will disrupt Seiko and Casio. Can tech coexist with lifestyle brands or fail completely against better made, more aspirational fare. If the iPhone forced Blackberry, Nokia, Samsung, HTC et al to get smarter by asserting product superiority, can a similar stunt be pulled in a space where rapid iteration and mass production isn’t the norm? How will Android Wear- and Tizen-powered smartwatches tear consumers away from the classic tourbillions of Rolex and TAG Heuer? So many questions and so many poor products to an answer them with.

IFA produced nothing to indicate you’ll soon be trading in your Tommy Hilger frames for smartglasses. Sony’s effort (pictured) wouldn’t be the worst of their kind but they suffer from an earnest that plays up their gadget value at the expense of discretion. Lenovo showed off its answer to Google Glass, Baidu Eye, which looks more ridiculous than its competitor, although it does promise about twice the battery life for largely the same feature set.

Changing times
In smartwatches we got to see Samsung’s Galaxy Gear S, Motorola’s Moto 360, LG’s G Watch R and Sony’s Smartband. Taking them in order, Samsung showed what could be done by putting a SIM into a watch, decoupling it from the smartphone at the expense of comfort; Motorola and LG made produced convincing watches let down by poor battery life; and Sony introduced fitness tracker that makes use of existing technology and decent battery life. Given the choice I’d put my money on Sony as it delivered on a simple concept, targeting a particular user. Best of all, it’s discrete.

It’s that final element of discretion that is going to hold back wearable technology. Unless Apple reveals a game changing design tonight – which it may do – smartwatches and smartglasses will remain in the spaces between necessary and aspirational or fashionable and kitsch.

Google’s Android Wear operating system hasn’t matured to the state that it can deliver apps a smartphone either can’t or is not suited for and the need to keep prices down until the market matures hasn’t given us much to coo over, or even add some bling to. To this critic, they lack the craft of the products they would replace.

One thing I am looking forward to in wearables, although the term may be applied loosely here, is Samsung’s Galaxy VR. Yes it does need a Note 4 to work with, but I have hope that any compatibility will become less of an issue as it finds more devices to play with like, say, the PlayStation 4. With the innards developed in association with Oculus, it would be one of the fastest €200 I’d ever part with. On that alone I’d say Samsung won IFA 2014. Now let’s see what Cupertino has to offer.

 

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