2013-07-08

Co.Labs

The Smartwatch's Secret Weapon: A Data Goldmine For Developers

If Dell is looking at making a smartwatch, you know it's a tech about to hit the mainstream... but why is every tech firm under the sun making a watch? It may be all about the data.



The Pebble smartwatch is something of a poster child for one type of wearable tech, having broken records on Kickstarter and then actually captured a deal with BestBuy to go on sale in physical stores. But as a post at TheNextWeb points out, one of its most overlooked features is the fact it integrates with the RunKeeper app. The tiny watch's sensors hook up to the app and create a great pedometer for tracking the wearer's fitness efforts. Think on this fact, remember the explosion in personal sensors, and suddenly the smartwatch may be something you're desperate to create code for.

Compared to other wearable tech, smartwatches may have a leg up. The watch meme is well known, and though folks tend to rely on their phones to tell the time now...a wrist-born phone companion could sneak into pride of place on user's wrists because they're fed up with hauling a phone out of a jeans pocket or the depths of a purse to see who's calling or which friend has pinged a status update on Facebook.

But its the sensor suite inside a smartwatch like this that's the clever bit--because if you take your watch everywhere you go, then you take the sensors too.

Pebble has basic motion sensors, but unlike a dedicated fitness tracker like Fitbit, you're more likely to take the watch everywhere you go--partly because you don't have to unclip it and reclip it when you change clothes (we're all lazy, it's well known). Motion detection is one of the simplest things a wrist computer could track. To see what else may end up in a watch, just look at the growing trend in the "quantified self." How about a watch that tracks your location by sniffing Wi-Fi even if your phone is off? How about a device that tracks your heart rate?

This isn't fantasy--Apple manufacturing partner Foxconn recently showed off a sensor-laden wrist device it's been working on that is packed with health sensors. Apple's rumored iWatch product is also said to be at least in part about health sensors. And you can imagine that while Apple's plans are to monetize the data it gathers, the same data will be accessible to developers so that apps like RunKeeper, or check-in services like Foursquare, can work.

Which means the secret to making smartwatches attractive to developers is not the idea of playing games on a tiny wrist computer, or even of selling cute digital watch faces. It is, instead, a question: What could you do with all those reams of hyper-personal user data gathered from a wearable device that the wearer takes everywhere?

[Image: Flickr user David Haberthür]






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