Wearisome wearables – lessons learned from a BMX experiment, and why some sections of media are still taking the easy option
Much of the “excitement” of Mobile World Congress last week centred on a number of announcements of new “wearable” technology. Even before the show officially began, Samsung launched three new smart watches, and later in the week Huawei unveiled its “Talkband”, Sony launched its “SmartBand”, and Motorola promised us a smart watch of its own. Googling “MWC wearables” will provide you with a full run down and analysis of these wonderful products.
And that’s kind of where it all falls down for me, really. CES, the world’s largest consumer electronics show, concluded a mere six weeks before MWC began. There, countless other wearable devices and “smart” technologies were launched and salivated over. And here we were in Barcelona, at the world’s largest trade show for the entire mobile telecoms industry, with an almost sycophantic fascination with smart watches, fitness devices, Bluetooth thingies and personal wotsits.
But there was so much else going on that mattered more to the industry. Discussions on smart cities, big data analytics, SDN and NFV, small cells and LTE – the stuff that’s important and makes the broader mobile telecoms ecosystem actually work – gained little notice from many key media. It remains a permanent disappointment to me that so much technology “news analysis” focuses on the fun gadgets and not the serious business of technology innovation.
I think I learned a salutary lesson in the mid ‘80s about the relative importance – and value – of technology that has stood me in good stead ever since. In 1985, Raleigh launched its Vektar, the “first ever computer bike”, which came complete with a speedometer, an FM radio, and a sounds console. “Wow, that’s cool,” I thought as I watched it demonstrated on Blue Peter, “I really want one of those.” But somewhat under-furnished in the pocket money department, I took on the innovation myself and sellotaped an old alarm clock and a portable AM radio to my existing push bike (yes, really).
The first bump I went over in the road proved a disaster and the whole lot fell off and smashed on the tarmac (yes, really – really, it fell off and smashed, and really, I had the gumption to ride around the neighbourhood on such an ill-conceived and daft looking contraption). The ultimate conclusion I came to was that I didn’t really need all this stuff on my bike and frankly, I probably looked a bit of a numpty.
Fast forward 30 years and what do we see around us? More gadgets which promise to enhance our lives by making life easier, faster, more integrated and personal, not to mention “cool”. I’m not for a minute suggesting that all this new technology is worthless, far from it. But I am suggesting that this is not necessarily where the media spotlight on technology innovation should be shining – especially at a trade event like Mobile World Congress.
And before I’m accused of being a Luddite I will say that I’m actually fascinated with how humans and consumers interact with technology, but that we have to treat the so called innovation with a dose of healthy cynicism (see earlier posts on innovation here and here).
Total Telecom’s Nick Wood rounded it out nicely when he inadvertently and unknowingly took my BMX experiment to a new level and devised his own smart reporter wearable: “…during this year’s show I devised an ingenious way to avoid rummaging around in my bag for a pen at the start of every briefing: clipping it onto my watchstrap and hiding it up my sleeve. Incredibly smart, until I discovered that the action of putting a jacket on resulted in me flinging a pen out of my sleeve and halfway across the press room.”
Let that be a lesson to us all.
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