By Philip Hunter
The arrival of wearable smart devices such as watches and headsets will provide new opportunities for broadband and pay TV operators in the smart home. Here we are talking about smart watches such as Samsungâ€™s Android based Galaxy Gear launched in September 2013 at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin and also smart headsets such as the about-to-be-launched Google Glass. Both of these have great potential for monitoring and controlling home services, such as security and environmental systems, by virtue of being always on and always on you. That could be said of smart phones too, but they are still optimised for telephony and Internet access and are not always to hand when in the home.
At this early stage it is not clear whether watches or headsets will prove more popular, given it is unlikely many people will wear both at the same time. Headsets look to have stolen an early lead, given all the excitement generated by Google Glass ahead of commercial availability while it is in the hands only of developers, combined with the relative flop registered by Samsungâ€™s Galaxy Wear so far. It may have been a deliberate move to get a stake in the ground but Samsung has definitely been guilty of passing off a work in progress as a finished commercial product, which is something Apple has avoided ever since the launch of the iPod. Apple also has its smart watch, the iWatch, in the wings and it will be interesting to see if having been beaten to the draw by Samsung it will at avoid the same teething problems when it does launch.
Google may also be accused of coming out with an immature product when it launches Glass, given some anticipated teething troubles like poor battery life and two significant omissions, lack of in-built GPS and no support yet for facial recognition. The latter would enable automatic log-in when donning the headset, while lack of GPS means it can only exploit Google maps to get directions â€“ a compelling use case given this can be done while walking with just one eye on the display â€“ when tethered to a smart phone.
These deficiencies will be remedied and the key point is that wearable devices will be part of the smart home revolution, whichever wins out. Watches may be preferred because many people wear one anyway, while headsets are more intrusive and require a change of habit. After all, the need to wear glasses has been one factor inhibiting take-up of 3D TV so far.
On the other hand a smart head set enables operation that is not just hands free but also blends with a range of activities that may require real time information presented conveniently at eye level. For this reason there has been a lot of interest in the medical field, especially for surgery where real time information is often needed to guide an operation and the precise movements of instruments in response to feedback from sensors. This information can be displayed to surgeons on Google Glass headsets while they operate.
In the smart home Google Glass has most immediate potential for convenient wireless control to turn on lights, lock doors, switch on heating, or interact with the TV as a second screen. Developers have already created apps for some of these functions in time for the launch, in some cases adapting existing smart phone apps. One such app from home automation software vendor Revolv can control a variety of devices including Philips Hue lights, Yale locks, Sonos Hi-Fi speakers, as well as various other lighting systems, switches and motion sensors.
In the immediate future smart phones will continue to lead the field for smart home control, but wearable devices will start catching up and become important components that operators should be following and looking to incorporate in their digital home strategies.