Technology scaling has fueled the myth of wearable computing since long time ago. The many challenges hidden behind the idea of wearable computing have engaged researchers and companies for many years, leading to extraordinary results that have overcome the imagination of sci-fi writers and have brought huge changes in our everyday lives. Representative recent examples include general purpose smart watches (e.g., Samsung Gear Live, Moto 360, LG G Watch), smart glasses (e.g., Google Glass), and many domain-specific wearable devices mainly used in health care and sports (e.g., metabolic holter, activity monitor, vital signals tracker). Many more wearables are expected to be marketed in the next months thanks to the boost provided by Android Wear, just launched by Google.
In spite of the large number of amazing new gadgets with unprecedented ergonomic design, my smartphone is by far the most wearable device I use every day. Technically speaking, I’m not exactly wearing it, in that I need either to keep it in hand, or to put it in a pocket or in a bag. But I feel more comfortable with my all-in-one mobile than with any other wearable device, including my mechanical wrist watch.
So my first question is:
1. Do smartphones belong to the category of wearable devices?
To provide a tentative answer to this question I need to go back to the first time I encountered the myth of wearable computing in my professional life (trying not to consider the time spent watching Star Trek as part of it). At that time (the early 90’s) the Internet was in its infancy, Wi-Fi was still WaveLAN, laptops were hardly portable, and I had no cellular phones. To me, wearable computing was just an enabling technology to achieve the goal of ubiquitous/mobile computing. Wearing a computer has never been a big dream of mine, but I’ve always desired to be able to compute and communicate anywhere and at anytime.
The difference between a portable device and a wearable device is that the former is so cumbersome that I decide to bring it with me if and only if I know for sure that I’m going to need it during the day and that its utility will compensate the discomfort that it will cause to me in my daily routine (laptops belong to this category, although they have become much thinner and lighter than in the early 90’s) the latter is so handy and useful that I know for sure that I’ll need it during the day and that I won’t be limited in all other activities because of it, so that I bring it with me without even considering if it is worth or not (I have no doubt that smartphones belong to this category).
This brings to my second question:
2. Is there any device which is more wearable than a smartphone?
According to the definition provided above, I don’t think so. I wear my smartphone more than any other object, clothes included. There is no piece of clothing that I wear for more than 12 hours every day! Even a sweater looks less wearable than a mobile to me, in that I decide to carry it with me when I go out only if I really think I’m going to put it on, or otherwise it will hinder me in my activities.
Going back to wearable electronic devices, smart watches and Google glasses are very good examples of truly wearable gadgets enabling new applications in many relevant fields like augmented reality, accessibility, health care, and gaming. However, they are still not usable enough as general purpose personal devices in order to replace smartphones, while they are more hindering than a smartphone when not used. At the moment, they look more like companion gadgets than like stand-alone devices, and their marketing and usage models rely on the fact that endusers already have their smartphones with them.