Posted By Simon Montford on Jan 21, 2015
An increasingly popular way to operate wearable devices like the Moto 360, Sony SmartWatch 3, Martian, Omate, and the Apple Watch is via voice control. Devices powered by Android Wear are activated when the user says "Okay Google", and those that use their iPhone usually tap a “command” button which activates the familiar Siri chime. Both Google Now and Siri enable users to read and reply to emails directly on the wearable device as well as read and compose text messages, make calls, enter calendar appointments, and set reminders.
The problem is that if the device is not synced with a smartphone, it suddenly becomes nothing more than a digital watch that counts steps. Another problem is that many people still prefer to swipe, tap and touch. From a human perspective, speaking to a computer on your body is inconvenient at best, and socially awkward at worst. The good news is that various enabling technologies will soon become available that may solve these issues.
Ubiquitous wi-fi service such as Freedompop in the States as well as smart city initiatives such as LinkNYC, will soon enable us all to enjoy super-fast wifi everywhere we go, negating the need for a 4G data connection altogether! This means we won't need to depend on our smartphones for functionality. In addition, a new breed of super fast chips designed specifically for small-form devices such as the MediaTek MT2601, Intel Curie/Quark, ARM Cortex-M, Qualcomm SnapDragon, Apple S1, and Broadcom BCM4334 are or will become available to OEMs.
So what are some of the most likely ways, other than voice, we may use to interact with wearable devices in future? Well there are several candidates, and here are my top five. If I've left any out, please feel free to add your comments, below.
1. Virtual Keypad
Both 5Tiles, Fleksy, and Minuum are apps that enable users to type in text via a stripped down on-screen keypad. By tapping and swiping on the screen, text messages and emails can be created and sent in seconds. Another solution worth keeping an eye on is Zoomboard. Finally, if you can't reduce the keyboard to fit the screen, you could always make the screen fit the keyboard! Check out the Rufus Cuff.
2. Smart Stylus
Apple recently filed a patent for a "smart pen" aka stylus that is able to accurately read hand written notes. This concept isn't entirely new. I remember doing something similar when I owned a Palm PDA way back in the day, and it worked beautifully! There are existing devices such as Livescribe 3, Adobe Ink & Slide, and Neo Smart Pen N2, but what's different about the technology described in Apple's patent filing is its ability to transcribe text that is written on any surface, including air as the device will contain accelerometers! The text will then presumably synch in real-time across multiple iOS devices.
3. Gesture Control
An increasing number of gesture control devices are appearing on the market that include Reemo, Nod, Myo, Ractiv, and LeapMotion. Granted most are aimed at smart home devices and gaming, but there is no reason they can't be adapted for use with wearables.
4. Eye Tracking
Intel have developed an open-source communication system, ACAT (Assistive Context Aware Toolkit), that was created especially for Professor Stephen Hawking with technology integrated from SwiftKey. Although intended for those that suffer from quadriplegia and motor neurone disease, in theory ACAT could be adapted and used for controlling wearables.
5. Thought Control
There are situations when voice is not an option. For example, background noise is too loud, or there's a need for silence. There are also situations when keypad entry, stylus and hand gestures aren't effective. For example, when running or if the user suffers from Parkinson's Disease as rapid gestures may confuse anything that tracks movement. The only product that uses mind control is a product called Muse, that could also potentially be adapted.
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