One of the most successful purveyors of wearable technology says that there are technical hurdles – as well as philosophical ones – to be overcome before the next generation of devices can emerge.
Myriam Joire, Pebble's chief product evangelist, delivered a keynote address Wednesday at the Wearable Tech Expo in New York. She said that battery, display and input technology would be keys to making future smart watches and other wearables successful.
The most serious issue, according to Joire, is making sure battery life is long enough.
"If you want to make a wearable, your software and your hardware both have to be super-efficient," she said. Android and Tizen, Joire pointed out, were operating systems designed for phones, not watches, and physical size limitations on batteries are also an issue.
A related issue is charging. Given the abuse that a smart watch tends to take during the course of daily use, and the consequent need to make the device dust- and water-proof, wireless charging seems to be the way forward, since it's tough to protect something like a microUSB port from the elements.
Fortunately, that technology is improving quickly, according to Joire.
"It's ... faster to charge than it used to be, so almost as fast as wired," she said. "A few years from now, it's going to be pretty normal for you to throw your phone and your watch on a pad."
Where display technology is concerned, however, device makers have more of a dilemma on their hands, Joire said. Using e-Ink-type screens offers excellent power efficiency, but less visibility under some conditions, while using the AMOLED or LCD screens common to modern smartphones can compromise battery life.
"It's a pick-your-poison situation," said Joire.
The power of speech
These technical challenges, however, could prove comparatively simple next to the need for improved voice recognition technology, which Joire said will be a critically important method of input. Tiny, difficult-to-use onscreen keyboards aren't a good solution, and hardware buttons on the device can't provide the range of functionality needed.
What's required, she said, is highly intelligent voice recognition, able to take a command like "remind me to pick up milk on the way home" and translate it into the correct action. And the way to create that technology is lots and lots of contextual data, which will have to come from the users themselves.
"You need to trust the tech world right now and give us your data, because without that, it's not going to happen," Joire said.