Apple and Google both exploring wearable technology initiatives

Tue, Dec 20, 2011


Apple’s bread and butter lies in delivering innovative technology inside an easy-to-use wrapper to the mainstream. While most companies tend to release any morsel of cool technology that might originate from their research labs, Apple only releases a product if it believes it’ll have a fundamental impact on a market. Indeed, Apple’s Greg Joswiak recently explained that Apple doesn’t enter a market unless it feels it can essentially own it.

But that’s not to say there isn’t innovative and next-gen research going on deep inside Apple’s secret R&D centers. On the contrary, Apple employs a respectable number of people tasked with researching issues on the cutting edge of technology.

One specific area Apple is currently exploring is wearable technology, which as the name suggests, embodies technology one can wear. And it’s not as if this is some far flung idea that might hit the market in the far off future. Apple’s iPod Nano is currently quite often used as a wrist watch, for example.

In any event, the New York Times is reporting that Apple, along with Google, are both secretly working on projects involving wearable smartphone technology.

In Google’s secret Google X labs, researchers are working on peripherals that — when attached to your clothing or body — would communicate information back to an Android smartphone.

People familiar with the work in the lab say Google has hired electronic engineers from Nokia Labs, Apple and engineering universities who specialize in tiny wearable computers.

Apple has also experimented with prototype products that could relay information back to the iPhone. These conceptual products could also display information on other Apple devices, like an iPod, which Apple is already encouraging us to wear on our wrists by selling Nanos with watch faces.

The report claims that Apple already has a small group of engineers charged with drumming up wearable technology concepts and even, in some cases, producing some prototypes.

“One idea being discussed is a curved-glass iPod that would wrap around the wrist,” the report explains. People could communicate with the device using Siri, the company’s artificial intelligence software.”

That sounds cool, and with the bendable displays we’ve seen from Samsung, perhaps this will one day be doable. But to be fair, we’ve seen mock photos of a bendable iPhone going as far back as 4 years ago. But more importantly, just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. You might recall that Steve Jobs once said that he’s as proud of the products Apple doesn’t release as he is of the one’s Apple does release. And while devices like contact lenses with virtual displays might sound cool on paper, I sincerely doubt it’s the wave of the future.

Notably, Apple in March of 2010 hired wearable technologies expert Richard DeVaul to work closely with Jonny Ive to come up with conceptual products in Apple’s top secret design labs. At the time, it was reported that only 7 people at Apple would be aware of the prototypes DeVaul would be working on. And as a point of interest, DeVaul’s PHd dissertation at MIT was something he dubbed “The Memory Glasses Project” which he describes thusly:

The Memory Glasses is a wearable, proactive, context-aware memory aid based on the MIThril platform and wearable sensors. The primary goal of this project is to produce an effective memory aid and reminder system that requires a minimum of the wearer’s attention. Our Memory Glasses paper that was published in ISWC 2003 describes recent research on the use of subliminal visual cues for memory support.

DeVaul, however, only lasted 18 months at Apple before moving onto Google.


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