THE latest advance in technology is, depending on your point of view, a life-changing breakthrough in portability or proof if more were needed that the human race is finally inert.
Google is about to unleash an internet device that straps to your wrist – for those occasions when pulling a phone out of your pocket is just too much trouble.
Officially, it’s a watch, or “wearable tech” in the jargon du jour. But Google’s “Android wear” is a phone with a smaller screen, without the ability to call anyone.
The announcement arrived with the sort of ballyhoo that used to accompany moon landings and similar fads: the new watches would, said the developers, supply information when you most needed it; provide straight answers to spoken questions; and even monitor your health and fitness. Oh, and it will tell you the time.
Google won’t actually make the watches – just the operating system on which they will run. This is a customised version of the Android software which powers most non-Apple smartphones and tablets today. The difference is that it will be better attuned to your current location.
It will, for instance, be able to tell you which at which stop to get off the bus, or which gate your flight is leaving from, but without having to look around for one and perhaps risk making eye contact with someone. Like smartphones, the watches will rely on third-party apps for extra functionality.
Mobile phone makers, will supply the watches, and the first will appear later this year, at a price yet to be announced. Quite who will want one is also to be determined, given that they will be marketed at people who already have the same information, in the palm of their hand. The world has had a love-hate relationship with the smartwatch. Sony developed one a couple of years back that could display Twitter feeds and text messages, but found few takers. Further back, Clive Sinclair’s disastrous LED “black watch” required the user to press a button to see the time, thus creating the concept of new technology that did less than the technology it replaced. Casio and others have made watches that double as calculators, with rows of buttons beneath the dial – but it’s hard to disguise how silly they look on the wrist.
Will Google’s Android watches look any less silly? If enough people are seen with them they will start to look commonplace. But Google’s mission to get us wearing our tech devices will succeed only if it can persuade us to pay again for information that’s already on our person.