June 23rd, 2014 NY Mobile Forum: Wearables can Only be Ready if You can Bring it to a Date


Would you wear a wearable to a date?

Imagine you’re in full tech regalia. You have the Google Glass, the Galaxy Gear, the Vusix M100, the Epson Moverio BT200, the Oculus Rift (suddenly hot from its billion-dollar purchase by Facebook), the Avegant Glyph, the Sony Smartwatch, the Nod, Pebble and Qualcomm’s Toq, to name a few of the few gizmos you can bring with you. 

That is taking wearable garbs to Darth Vader extreme, but until all these are seamlessly integrated in your body, you won’t wear any of these on a date, because who wants something between them and their date?

Putting it in this context, Andrew Sugaya, senior software engineer at APX Labs, is just confirming what we already know: “Wearables are not ready for consumers.”

Giving proper perspective on wearables, he asked, “Would you wear it if your boss asks you to wear it?” If you put it that way, yes.

Speaking to at NY Mobile Forum at Microsoft last June 23, Sugaya said he is confident that it’s just a matter of time, though.

Would you take his word for it? It probably helps to say that Sugaya graduated at the top of his class with a B.S. and M. Eng from M.I.T. and soon after, became a senior software engineer of APX Labs, the leading software builder of immersive digital experiences. As part of the research and development group at APX Labs, Sugaya works with wearable displays and devices for enterprise solutions.

Outside of it, he is the winner of several hackathons, including the Qualcomm Uplinq 2013 Hackathon, where he won the grand prize for the Internet of Things category. 

So when you have those credentials, it’s probably easy to tell consumers, “Google Glass is not there yet.” Yes, he said it. It’s not something you hear often from someone in this field; Sugaya clearly has guts. 

With more than 233 mobile devices out there, Sugaya narrowed down his thoughts on smart glasses and smart watches, briefly mentioning a few other wearables. 

From a developer’s perspective working with wearable devices, Sugaya talked about the challenges confronting the industry.  Making anything work is easy, but it’s more than that. The bigger question should be, Will people use it? What are we looking for here in terms of the complexity of the challenge? Let’s put it this way: Unless you can stick Google search in your brain, it’s not a wearable.  

Setting a high standard is clearly in Sugaya’s mind, as he proceeds to share us his insights on the following wearables:

“Google Glass: ‘Fashionable-ish’,” but “not there yet”

Vusix M100: “Don’t ever use it”

Epson Moverio BT200: Originally designed for media consumption, it’s popular in Japan where you can watch a movie on its packed trains. “It’s tad clunky, but when it comes to virtual reality this is the best one out there”

Oculus Rift:  Immersive in its virtual reality capabilities, “but it’s not a wearable because you won’t wear it outside. Still, it’s completely for consumers; it’s an entertainment device”

Avegant Glyph:  Not virtual reality and not augmented reality, but somewhere in between. “It doesn’t have a world in enterprise; for consumers, yes.”

Sugaya is challenging our expectations of what wearables need to be. By saying it in public, he has put the problem out there for everyone to think of a solution. In terms of our physical interaction with the world, he said we have different head sizes, interpupils and viewbox (where your eyes can be). That is a user experience challenge.

The perennial technical challenge: battery life. Wi-Fi is another concern, because if it’s a wearable, it has to be online all the time—not only when there’s Wi-Fi.  For wearables, you need to know what your resources are

But if you really want to try out some wearables, Sugaya recommends Toq by Qualcomm, a concept smartwatch from the world leader in next-gen mobile devices.

Sugaya gushes over the efficiency of this smartwatch—its low-power 200MHz Coretex M3 processor to extend battery life, thanks to its Mirasol display, a technology that was originally demonstrated in e-ink style e-readers. It doesn’t drain much battery life. On top of that, it’s also highly reflective and can display color.

“Battery life is two to three times longer (than any device),” he said.

If you’re a developer, Sugaya suggests looking into how cameras and motion captures work in those wearables, as you figure out the camera’s variable position relative to eyes and depth as well how to make motion capture infrastructure.

He added how figuring out input (gesture-based) offers interesting UX challenges. For head tracking on an “eye-wearable,” there are three head gestures you must consider: “Roll is unnatural. Yaw is unreliable. Pitch is awesome. Stay away from Yaw.”

Voice is also an interesting challenge, because it’s unnatural to dictate over a wearable. 

Sugaya shared some of his thoughts on smartwatches or gadgets around the wrist:

Pebble:  “Developer-friendly.”  

Galaxy Gear: “Great device, just not marketed well”

Qualcomm Toq: Colored screen, software buttons, has Mirasol (based on e-ink technology for longer battery life); Sugaya: “The only usable wearable I have”

Fitbit: Only wearable he thinks is consumer-ready

An even bigger challenge for wearables is how developers have to grapple with so many codes. “Hopefully, someday, there will be just one code. As for how to create a wearable, he said if you can program for a phone, you can program for a wearable. Test your skills at developer.qualcomm.com

With smart glasses and smartwatches staking their claim in our technology ecosystem, wearable devices are the next step in the evolution of computing devices.

A wearable for me should pass two tests. If I hardly notice I’m wearing it; it’s a wearable. If my date doesn’t notice it and is focused on me, it’s a wearable.