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'Wearable technology’ is next trend in mobile, says Smart

Forty years after the invention of the cell phone, what’s the next step for mobile technology?  A growing number of experts say people will start wearing their communications devices. This early, the emerging technology trend has gotten some very trendy names: it’s been called ‘Silicon fashion’, ‘cellular style’, and, ‘electric eclectic’.

More commonly known as ‘wearable technology’, these gadgets have been around for several years now.  But the technology may be reaching a tipping point, and the big players – and some tech startups – are piling in.

“Wear-ever, wherever: wearable devices will push mobile communications one big step forward,” says Smart Communications spokesperson Mon Isberto. “If it catches on, this will trend will further increase the demand for reliable and pervasive mobile data services.”

The early wearable devices took the form of smart watches that worked in tandem with smart phones.  One such product already in the market is the Sony Smart Watch which notifies the wearer if his or her Android handset has received text messages, emails and notifications from Facebook or Twitter.

Both Apple and Samsung are said to be close to launching their own versions of a similar product, which will extend their heated rivalry in smartphones into this new range of products.  Recent press reports also indicate that Microsoft may be thinking of joining the fray.

Small startups like Pebble are also working on a smart watch, using funds that it raised through Kickstarter.

“It would be great if a smart watch could notify my wife that I’m calling her mobile phone.  When phones are buried deep in women’s bags, it’s very difficult to get their attention,” Isberto said.

Google, on the other hand, seems poised to launch “Google Glass” either late this year or early 2014.  “Glass” is basically a pair of eyeglasses with a small computer and heads-up display built into the frame.

By making voice commands, Glass users can take pictures or video, send messages using speech to text, or, “hang out” with people.  Wearers can get around a city by using Google Maps, projecting information and directions onto a transparent screen over their left eye. The headset will link up to Android and iOS handsets via Bluetooth.

“Experts are divided over the prospects of these new devices.  Some are doubtful while others are ecstatic.  But with the Internet giants joining the game, this will give wearable technologies a huge kick,” Isberto said.

He pointed out that a similar process has transformed the cellular phone over the past 40 years. The mobile phone started out as a purely voice device, basically a wireless landline.

With the arrival of GSM, mobile phones became digital devices – capable of text messaging, taking low-resolution photos and videos and simple data services.

With the advent of smartphones, cellular phones metamorphosed into small mobile computers performing a fast-growing range of data functions through applications and handling high-definition photos and video.

“Now, everyday accessories like eyewear and watches are on the verge of becoming mobile computing devices as well,” Isberto said. “Just as the mobile phone changed the way the world communicates, wearable technology can change the way people interact with the world.”

Isberto explained that telcos look at this trend as part of the broader movement towards the emerging “Internet of Things”.  Household appliances and facilities like refrigerators, air-conditioners, security systems will be embedded with computer power and wireless connectivity.

A smart phone with GPS capabilities for example could ‘tell’ the house lights to turn on moments before the homeowner reaches his or her driveway. Similarly, a smart wristband could automatically send an email to a diabetic patient’s doctor if it detects a drop in insulin levels.

“These devices will talk with each other via the Internet and cloud technologies.  As they become more widespread, mobile data connectivity will carry a vast array of life services that will become vital for everyone,” he added.

“All this is part of the digital tsunami that we expect will sweep the world, including the Philippines in the coming years,” Isberto said. “That is why Smart and its parent firm PLDT has invested heavily in its network to bulk up its digital data services.”

The PLDT Group completed its P67-plus-billion network transformation program last June which made Smart’s cellular network ready for deploying fourth-generation Long Term Evolution mobile technology and equipped PLDT’s landline network to start offering fiber-to-the-home data services.

Those data networks are backed by PLDT’s 54,000 kilometer fiber-optic transmission network which the Group is now extending by another 5,000 kilometers this year.

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