5 wearable ideas Apple could borrow from sci-fi

Today's iNews bulletin appears to be the notion that  Apple [AAPL] is developing new families of iOS-powered wearable device as it seeks new areas in which to innovate. Given there's more to a patent than "rounded corners", just what sort of sci-fi solutions might Apple (and inevitably Google) realize?

[ABOVE: Star Trek is a rich source of futuristic product ideas. Here's Geordie LaForge wearing intelligent glasses (while using an iPad.)]


Apple has been developing video glasses for way longer than many realize. It was first rumoured to be doing so shortly after the introduction of the iPhone -- years before Google began its Glass experiment.

What might these do?

Well, it seems inevitable we will see eyewear like LaForge's. Meanwhile we can probably expect voice-activated specs which enable virtual and augmented reality experiences and offer a visually-based conduit to controlling your iPhone.

That's a logical extension of the kind of low-powered but effective computing scenario Bruce Tognazzini wrote about last week…

[ABOVE: Those intelligent wrist-based devices aren't so new. Though conceivably Apple's will be cool, rather than looking just a little like a personal torture device. Though six years ago Zypad was ahead of its time, and looks a little like the doom device used by a Predator.]


Weekend reports claimed Apple has indeed been working on wearable devices for the wrist. There's all manner of speculation, but Tognazzini's is the best recent read you'll find.

Tognazzini imagines a device that connects to your iPhone, uses little power and is equipped with various sensors, including the capacity to gather information such as your height above sea level in order to improve the topographical layer of Apple Maps.

The Wall Street Journal seems to suggest such plans are relatively advanced.

[ABOVE: Always popular, the gesture-based interface conceptually described in movie, Minority Report.]


It’s all about the user interface, and while the gesture-based, 3D UI described in Minority Report may not by definition be "wearable", in conjunction with patents like this one or projected UI devices courtesy of a sensor and an iPhone (or iGlass) borne Pico projector, these solutions may no longer be as outlandish as once thought.

The point here is that as the user interface becomes intuitive, voice and gesture-based, the computing device can recede into the background. As processors advance your iPhone becomes the brain of a computing experience that perhaps only you the user are aware of. That's part of why the era is called "Post-PC".

These solutions can only become more powerful, but the vessels carrying them become more invisible.

[ABOVE: Knight Rider surely the world's best-known self-driving cars. Other than Herbie and Chitty-Chitty Bang-bang.]


Some people feel that when they are in their car they are inside a second skin, a mechanical extension of their body. Does this constitute a wearable computer? Perhaps not, but it's not just wearable computing Apple (and others) are exploring. Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, wanted to develop an iCar; head of marketing Phil Schiller is a car freak; and iTunes chief Eddy Cue sits on the board of Ferrari.

What might it do? Hopefully not this.


[ABOVE: Digital health is a stalking horse in any debate on mobile computing. As devices become more intelligent, so too will and are prosthetic devices. Which begs the question: who would write Steve Austen's OS?]

[ABOVE: Remember Tron: Legacy? Other than the projected computer interface in the opening shot, who can forget those shiny clothes with their special features. We may not be going into the Grid just yet, but intelligent textiles are already being researched.]


So if you have a processor and your clothes are equipped with tiny flexible touch screens and batteries, woven using special fibers, what might your intelligent garments do? Some ideas:

  • Regulate temperature
  • Change color
  • Raise or lower music volume
  • Control your television, or any other device
  • Watch vital health signals, including weight
  • Automatically call for help if you have an accident, informing emergency services of blood group and other relevant information when help arrives
  • Always know where you are going

Given the military aspects of smart fabric research, can it be too long until mass market adaptive textiles appear, textiles which are aware and reactive enough to become waterproof when it rains, or tense like padded armor if you take a fall? That's far fetched using today's tech, but the notion of camouflage clothing opens doors to interesting new fashion concepts.

The future? As every Internet search gets logged and people's shopping, entertainment, browsing, travel and geographical data is collected, it's inevitable that at some point Big Data analysis tools will also develop. Together these will enable the technical evolution of intelligent machines, systems that will know what humans want better than we do.

Perhaps this is the kind of vision another Apple co-founder (there were three), Steve Wozniak had when he recently told a tech conference: “The stars of tomorrow are going to be the ones that carry computers into better understanding of humans. Eventually these machines are going to be like human friends. It’s absolutely going to happen.”


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