LAS VEGAS--When you think of CES, chances are it's images of massive HDTVs that first come to mind. This year, however, technology on a tiny scale made a big impact. This new product category we call wearable tech consists of gadgets small enough to be clipped, pinned, or looped around your body and worn constantly.
If you thought that the smartwatch died with the demise of Microsoft's SPOT devices over a decade ago, you're in for a rude awakening. With the recent rise of the smartphone, the need for the wealth of information these devices provide access to at a glance has never been greater.
Of course some would argue that linking your watch to your cell phone just because you can is a waste of time, or at least a luxury bound to add unnecessary complication to your life. I say different. If an intelligent timepiece isn't noticeably large or indeed even has an attractive, stylish design, that's a gadget I want to take a look at.
A great example of a watch like this is the Pebble. Shown for the first time at CES 2013, the Pebble was born out of a Kickstarter project. Sleek, thin, and colorful, the $150 Pebble syncs with both Android and iOS handsets to showcase e-mail and social-networking updates. Its e-ink style LCD displays caller ID too, supports multiple watch faces, and is readable in direct sunlight.
Further evidence of the Pebble's smarts is that you can configure custom alerts pushed from the cloud or commanded through a Bluetooth-connected smartphone. I also like how the Pebble boasts lots of slick gear such as an accelerometer and ambient light sensor, which hopefully developers will take advantage of by creating killer apps.
Now, sometimes you need a device that satisfies your inner secret agent, and that's where the Martian Passport comes in. At $299, this gizmo certainly isn't cheap. Still, the Passport can do things James Bond would be impressed by. A regular watch, though with premium 1960s aesthetics, the Passport links to phones via Bluetooth. A small OLED screen displays caller ID, other alerts, and settings. Use the watch to conduct calls by speaking through its microphone and listening to its speaker. You can also issue voice commands to the watch that iPhone's Siri and Android Google can understand. Now that's what I call neato spy tech.
I observed another trend at CES, the increasing number of personal fitness gadgets. Products like this aren't exactly new but this year the category seemed to really gather steam. For example Fitbit announced a new tracker, called the Fitbit Flex, which is squarely aimed at the Nike FuelBand and Jawbone Up. A wristband-style gadget, the Flex connects to iPhones and Android handsets to share stats such as the number of steps you take and the quality and duration of your sleep. In the same vein, startup company Basis Science finally disclosed plans to bring its Basis Band health tracker to market. A digital watch and oh so much more, the Basis Band relies on IR, motion, and sweat sensors to paint a complete picture of your healthy (or unhealthy) activities.
While not many exciting new smartphones debuted at this year's CES, a groundswell of mobile accessories has emerged, all taking advantage of the growing computing and networking power of today's cellular handsets. Some of these products, from the new Fitbit Flex to the Basis Band, promise to harness the cloud to present and analyze data. Others, like the Pebble and Martian Passport, are just plain whizbang cool. I can't wait for these devices to hit the market.