Eyeglasses correcting vision appeared 700 years ago and moved into mass production phase as more books were printed and read. Yet, first wearers of glasses, monks and scholars, were stigmatized as weak and old until the early 1900s when the 29th US president Theodore Roosevelt and the king of comedy Harold Lloyd finally made glasses popular. Eyeglasses kept evolving but their primary function remained vision correction and eye protection. Google glass was an amazing technological accomplishment but we were not ready to put computers on our faces.
The first wearable HDTVs from Sony were inconvenient because of the bulky battery pack, and the surrounding waves seemed to reverberate through your skull. Even so, smart glasses are already developing loyal following in niche markets such as Augmented/Virtual Reality gaming and tools for persons with physical disabilities. Google glass is heading toward a second version, and so are second generation wearable TVs like recently launched Royole-X that combines high-resolution display with noise-cancelling headphones. Virtual reality is back with some incredible headsets in development, and the best is yet to come.
The first truly wearable watches were created 200 years ago, some 300 years after portable spring driven clocks. The first smartwatch appeared in 1977. Hewlett Packard’s HP-01 combined a personal calculator, an alarm clock, a stopwatch, a timer, and a 200 year calendar. Linux-based WatchPad developed by IBM and Citizen in 2001 featured a graphic display, Bluetooth and an accelerometer and were called a “popular publicity gimmick”. Smartwatches developed in the last decade run on processors and internal components designed for smartphones. As new electronic components are being created, watch designs are getting slimmer, more attractive and more functional. Smartwatches might have a chance.
Hearing aids introduced over 100 years ago, are examples of still existing and successful wearable technology. They evolved from cartoonish ear trumpets to digital hearing devices that do more than amplify sound. Many technical problems – such as background noise still remain, but developers are already working on merging more features – like health tracking capabilities or the ability to flip through songs with just the tilt of a head – to create the new wave of hearables.
Wearable storage evolved from clunky wooden trunks to small purses hung on one's belt (like Robin Hood's pouch) to pockets as we know them, sewn into trousers and dresses, in the late 1700s. Pockets went out of fashion in the 1790s, and women began to use handbags. They came back larger and plainer during the 19th century. Today's attempts at wearable storage vary from handbags with built-in-batteries to charge your favorite gizmos on the go, to microchips in clothes or implantable chips storing personal information for mobile payments, to wearable robots aka exoskeletons for lifting and carrying heavy loads. But however strange some of the wearables may seem, they are the future and this future is ripe for growth.