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Samsung’s Galaxy Gear: time to move from phablets to wriblets?

Posted August 26, 2013

With the phablet (smartphone tablet) market getting very full, a new geeky gadget could unleash a rush of enthusiastic buying – and the latest hot topic is smart digital watches.

Samsung’s Galaxy Gear watch will be launched on September 4 and Apple is heavily rumoured to be about to give birth to a similar product.

Apple and Samsung, goes the mantra, can’t afford not to be trying to lead the new market. In addition, buying a smart wristwatch will lock the users into either the Samsung or the Apple platform.

News website Bloomberg says the global watch market is worth an annual US$60 billion. Much hangs on the right wrist. Or the left one, depending on your preference.

But the industry sources leak not about what the new wrist appurtenances might be like and what they will do, nor what they will be called.

Well, let’s get in first, and they can pay me for the rights. A wrist tablet is a wriblet.

What to expect in a wriblet

Web connectivity and phone functions are top of the list. But will the wriblet be a self-standing device, or will it need to tether wirelessly to a phone or other host? Presumably it will be tough enough for everyday mishaps, water resistant if not childproof. It might have bendy glass – the manufacturers are being very coy about that.

But I confess to being a deep wriblet sceptic. There is already a gradient from smartphone to phablet to minitablet to tablet to laptop. Do we want or need to add yet another device, and then cast around for functions to justify it?

More seriously, there is a major issue of size. To be visible, with say four to six icons, the watch will have to be reasonably wide. If it has control buttons, like an ordinary digital watch, it will be bulky and knobbly, and you will probably have to take it off to use it: there will be a lot of button pushing.

And if the controls are all on-screen, how will we manipulate its tiny icons? With a pointer? That’s another device which can easily get lost. My fingers are too large and square for many on-screen keyboards. I do not plan to waste futile time poking at wriblet icons that won’t respond.

Will the wriblet screen be unusable in bright sunlight, like the screen of your digital camera? Or perhaps it will have a quaint little retractable shade?

And there is a problem of anatomy. Wrists hang from arms. Arms dangle and crash against things, scratching and – on bad days – bending your heritage timepiece. I can conceive of a resilient wriblet, shock and scratch resistant.

But do we really want to carry things on our wrists any more? Fewer and people are wearing watches. The fob watch has gone, and the ring watch, as has the medical one worn on the outer upper chest elevation of staff taking your temperature in hospital. I often forget to put my watch on in the morning.

If you want to know the time, buy a digital watch at the local $2 store, or consult any of the timekeeping devices in your environment: the microwave, the car radio, the digital radio, or the watch thoughtfully encased in the latest freebie pen.

Focus elsewhere

All right, I digress. Time will be a marginal concern of the wriblet. But seriously, if you want to do web and email, a wriblet will drive you to sedatives.

For me the wriblet’s day is not yet even close. I am a self-confessed wriblet doubter.

I have a better idea. I’ve been ruminating for some time on how the smartphone and the tablet might find a really workable marriage.

What do almost all of us have about our persons? Spectacles: vision-correcting or sunnies or both. Google has a prototype out already, and there’s a cheaper Italian version trying to find venture capital. Add an earbud and a light boom microphone, and you have an interactive multifunction wearable device, phone and web and vision and sound all neatly packaged.

With one significant limitation, though: text input. Until voice recognition rises above Apple’s personal assistant Siri, which it will certainly do, no combination of buttons on a wriblet will do anything but a slow, fiddly and frustrating job.

The ultimate wriblet, of course, or rather spekky-web-phone, will be a surgical implant. When that happens I plan to dig out my 20-year-old Newton MessagePad – a precursor that looked like a brick, felt like a brick, and was substantial enough to hold a door open in a gale.

I wrest my case. (The Newton had one of those, too.)

Source: The Conversation, story by Roland Sussex

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