Face: The Final Frontier

November 15, 2013

By Kevin Maney, Newsweek Magazine

 

The rapid evolution of wearable technology is leading to body implants

 

Wearable gadgets like smart watches and Google Glass can seem like a fad that has all the durability of CB radios or Duran Duran, but they’re important early signs of a new era of technology that will drive investment and innovation for years.

 

Tech companies are pushing out waves of wearable technology products – all of them clumsy and none of them yet really catching on. Samsung is feverishly hawking its Galaxy Gear smart watch, and Google, Apple, Qualcomm, and others are expected to come out with competing versions. Google Glass gets lots of gee-whiz attention, and every other day, someone new introduces a fitness tracker, a GPS kid-monitoring bracelet, or – yeah, seriously – interactive underwear.

 

These are all part of a powerful trend: Over the past 40 years, digital technology has consistently moved from far away to close to us.

 

Go back long enough, and computers the size of Buicks stayed in the back rooms of big companies. Most people never touched them. By the late 1970s, technology started moving to office desks – first as terminals connected to those hidden computers, and then as early personal computers.

 

The next stage: We wanted digital technology in our homes, so we bought desktop PCs. A “portable” computer in the mid-1980s, like the first Compaq, was the size of a carry-on suitcase and about as easy to lug as John Goodman. But by the 1990s, laptops got better and smaller, for the first time liberating digital technology from a place and attaching it more to a person.

 

Now we want our technology with us all the time. This era of the smartphone and tablet began in earnest with the iPhone in 2007. But technology is still separate from us – we have to remember to bring it along and take it out of our pockets and bags. Twenty years from now, that will seem like a horrid inconvenience.

 

In technology’s inexorable march from far away to close to us, and now with us, there are only three places left for it to go: on us, all around us, and then in us.

 

"Wearable is the next paradigm shift," says Philippe Kahn, who invented the camera phone and today is developing innards for wearable tech. "We are going to see a lot of innovation in wearable in the next seven years, by 2020."

 

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