The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is where we learn about the trends that will dominate the gadget and digital plaything market for the year. Last year was all about OLED and 4K-resolution ultra-HD TVs. CES 2014 is all about "wearables."
"If you laid all the wristbands, smart watches, and head-mountable cameras at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) end to end, they would probably run the length of the Las Vegas strip," say Samuel Gibbs and Charles Arthur at The Guardian. But "the biggest fad right now is for wearable devices that measure some sort of detail about you, and log it."
That means wristbands, necklaces, and watches that measure your vital signs and track where you're going. And where your children are going. There's a Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush that records how efficiently you brush your teeth. And a baby onesie that, along with monitoring the baby's heartbeat, can determine when junior is waking up hungry and then start to heat up his bottle, all while you remain blissfully asleep.
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Some of the technology behind these wearables is really impressive. Intel, for example, has developed what amounts to a full-fledged PC the size of the SD card (circled above in red) you put in your digital camera. This tiny Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-connected Linux computer, called Edison, was designed to power current and future wearables — and because Intel needs to expand its business beyond the flagging PC market. But right now, Edison and the broader wearables category is an industry in search of customers.
"Wearables are not everywhere today because they aren’t yet solving real problems and they aren’t yet integrated with our lifestyles," says Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. "They don't always integrate what you want and you always have to have something else with you," he elaborated at a CES 2014 presentation on Monday night.
That's one possibility. Another possibility: Wearables are kind of creepy.
At a moment in history when Edward Snowden is a household name for leaking evidence that the National Security Agency is indiscriminately vacuuming up information about what phone numbers we call and, possibly, who we are emailing, will people really rush to scoop up gizmos that monitor and record our every movement? One company, Sen.se, is shopping around a multi-purpose monitoring device it calls Mother.
If a few new questions from a doctor is enough to prompt scary ads about ObamaCare, do we really want a machine monitoring our heartbeat and blood pressure? Aren't there enough cameras watching us without wearing another one on our face?
The wearables trend genuinely baffles me. But the idea isn't exactly new. In an article about the growing private surveillance state, The New York Times' Quentin Hardy talks with Greg Duffy, the 27-year-old cofounder and CEO of Dropcam, a company that makes HD surveillance cameras that not only monitor what goes on in your home when you're not there but also uploads it to the internet — at a mind-bending 1,000 hours of video per minute.
For Duffy — and apparently his first investor, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder Mitch Kapor — personal surveillance technology is an antidote to big brother. "There are two ways to go — the government can have cameras everywhere, or people can have cameras, and there is distributed control," Duffy tells The Times. "It's a world where you never have to be away from the things you care about."
Other people might call that our own personal dystopias. My advice to gadget makers draws from the 2004 film Mean Girls:
Stop trying to make wearables happen. It's not going to happen.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- How U2 became the new Nickelback
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Save the world... by changing how you pee
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
- California's epic drought
Subscribe to the Week