Top VC firm Andreessen Horowitz raised eyebrows by investing $49 million in Jawbone, a maker of high-end phone headsets.Why is an internet and software VC interested in a company that makes hardware accessories? Marc Andreessen thinks headsets are the start of “wearable computers.”
We thought we’d take a close look at what wearable computers are.
The name is pretty self-explanatory: they’re computing devices you can wear on your person. For most of the concept’s history they’ve been the realm of academic study—the MIT Media Lab has a team dedicated to wearable computing—and science fiction.
But nowadays, short of wearing computers, we carry fully functional internet-connected computers sixteen hours a day. We just choose to call them “smartphones.”
For decades smartphones were the fantasies of professors, science fiction writers and geeks, and now not only are they a commonplace reality, they’re a huge business.
Could the same thing be happening with wearable computers?
Here's what a Jawbone looks like. It's expensive because it does a bunch of fancy things like cancelling noise and looking pretty. So far, so good.
Why the hell would you download an app for a headset, you might ask? Actually there's surprisingly many use cases. You can have an app that reads your voicemail to you. An app to let you update Twitter or Facebook. A personal assistant app.
It's not much yet, but there it is. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, if it downloads and runs software and you wear it on you, it's a wearable computer.
Now let's step through the looking glass and look at other types of wearable computers.
Computer scientist Steve Mann has been making and wearing computers since the 1980s--they get better
His latest creation is called the EyeTap, which you have to admit looks pretty cool. It records what you're doing and displays information about what you're looking at or doing.
Eurotech Group makes the Zypad. It's used in industries like emergency services, healthcare and logistics, where they come in handy
There are basically two questions:
- Are wearable computers useful?
- Are wearable computers the future?
The answer to the first question is yes, or at least they will be. Jawbone is a wearable computer and it's pretty useful. An iPod Nano watch is pretty useful. Imagine meeting someone you know you've met before but can't quite remember their name or who they are--excruciatingly awkward, right? Now imagine your glasses recognise his face and pull up Google and social network results of his name. 'Hi Jim! How have you been?' Like for smartphones, there are a million potential use cases, most of which haven't been dreamed up yet.
Are wearable computers the future? Maybe. It's a bit too science-fictiony for us to be sure. On the one hand, smartphones and tablets are on fire for a reason: they're a new era of truly personal computing or, as Steve Jobs puts it, 'the post-PC era.' Aren't wearable computers an extension of that? On the other hand, wearable computing might be off-putting to the average user. We want access to computing for most of our life, but do we want it in all of our life? As smartphones get more and more powerful, won't they be enough?