What's "the next big thing" in consumer electronics?
Lots of smarties are betting on wearable tech: smart watches, health and exercise monitors, geared-up eyewear, tech-embedded clothing.
Some of these innovations seem too gaudy (such as Monster "24K" gold headphones) or weird for words.
And early adopters of a couple of wearables - Google Glass and the Apple Watch - have suffered public scorn and private remorse for their choices. Not Gizmo Guy, though. He's enjoying his new Apple Watch more with every passing day.
Research firm IDC says wearable device makers will ship a total of 45.7 million units in 2015 globally, up from 19.6 million in 2014.
"And the sky is the limit," believes Philadelphia-based entrepreneur Stephen Spivak, who has just opened his online TheWearablesStore.com for business. Yeah, that name alone could be worth millions. And if Spivak (son of Electric Factory Concerts cofounder Herb Spivak) can get his inventory together, so much the better. "We're missing on some big brands like Samsung and Motorola now," he acknowledged, "but by the end of the summer, should have 80 percent of the hottest items."
At the top of the wearables pack is Fitbit, the brand synonymous with wrist-worn and clip-on devices that count steps and calories burned. Fitbit has sold 21 million devices, from $60 to $250, and just raised $731.5 million in an IPO.
Spivak also touts the "top-rated heart monitoring accuracy" of LifeTrak fitness bands and the "unmatched comfort" and "multi-month" (button) "battery" of ultra-slim, waterproof Misfit exercise/sleep tracking bands - a Gizmo Guy fave, as well.
The Apple in my eye. In less than three months, the multifunctional Apple Watch has been adopted by about two million users worldwide. Not too shabby, given its $349-and-up asking price, but not a grand slam as Apple intros go.
Adverts keep pushing the smart watch's exercise tracking and coaching skills. I like that it's a nudger, even if it's sometimes flaky. The thing keeps suggesting "stand up" when I already am standing!
At present, there isn't that much you can do with an Apple Watch if you don't also have a recent-vintage iPhone in range. (That will change.) Still, it's sweet to get buzzed on the little screen with Tweet alerts, Match.com messages, and incoming calls without having to pull out the phone. Calls and texts also can be initiated on the Watch, just by talking to Siri. Such a helper.
As an avid movie/concert goer, I enjoy flicking my wrist so the Watch's home screen momentarily lights up with time, date, and outdoor weather conditions.
Other fast-access screens (a.k.a. "glances") have been customized (by me) to show (slowly, at times) news headlines, Shazam (song ID), and control functions/tune info for the new Apple Music service.
A screen-tapped "find my phone" feature is a godsend. I'll make better use of Apple Pay (charging stuff at cash registers with the wave of the watch) as more partners such as Trader Joe's get set up.
So what do you call a first-generation Apple Watch?
We'll be back. Google Glass, much maligned, is off the market for re-grooving. Still, the realm of augmented reality eyewear that overlays guiding imagery and data onto your field of vision keeps expanding. Microsoft's HoloLens has gotten a good buzz, likewise Sony SmartEyeGlass and Vuzix M100. The Epson Moverio BT20 is making a dent with tour-guide applications. Intel liked the sporty-minded (for runners and bikers) Recon Jet smart eyewear so much it's just bought the company for an estimated $175 million.
Function follows fashion. TE Connectivity Ltd., based in Berwyn, helped Google launch its wearables-focused Project Jacquard at last month's Google I/O conference. TE's Wearable Labs has developed a way of weaving smart or connected technology into fabric that can be stitched into garments on an assembly line. All to realize a communications concept some are calling "threadcasting."
What's that mean? Think: Wear (sic) you are could tell where you are. Just wave. Or touch a sleeve.
At the recent CE Week (a mini Consumer Electronics Show) in New York, models paraded in Angela Dale dresses that blinked in time to music - like those Halloween princess costumes from Frozen. Accessories included pretty ViaWear bangles with discreet caller-ID screens, clutches (Stella Audio) with built-in speakers, Kiroco Orb digital lockets, and 3D-printed shoes by Continuum.
For the young 'uns, Kickstarter success story Mondevices introduced a wearable baby monitor, MonBaby that snaps onto a onesie. And Disney touted its big holiday toy: Playmation wearables that transform mild-mannered kids into otherworldly action heroes.