Screw the Tablet and Smartphone: HP's View of the Future is a Watch?

By Rob Enderle March 08, 2011

Well, not exactly, though it is possible that you might have ended up with that impression after seeing this video of Phil McKinney, HP’s Device CTO shot earlier this month. Another video explained this more and it is more of an accessory for us boomers who haven’t yet given up on watches and want our meeting notifications and alerts on our wrist rather than in our pockets or in our purses.

Against a certain demographic, this could be interesting as a Bluetooth accessory; but given what happened with Microsoft’s Spot Watches, I have a feeling most of us won’t remember this one.   However, HP has another technology in the works they aren’t currently talking about that apparently Phil forgot about that could be very powerful. About a year ago, a hand-picked number of us got inside HP’s labs and got to see a Superwatch they were building for the military -- and, oh mama, I want one of these.   

Rebirth of the Smartwatch?

A lot of us are using our smartphones for a lot of things, but we don’t wear them anyplace we can see them; so, for about 90 percent of the time, the device’s display isn’t very useful. When we get a call and we are in our properly equipped hands-free car, we can deal with the call hands-free, and many of our cars allow us to initiate a call hands free, as well.  With a properly configured phone and headset, we can do similar things everyplace, but it is a pain-in-the-butt to see the display. But if we get an SMS, e-mail, or phone alert, we have to be able to translate the beeps, buzzes, and shakes (if we can hear or feel them) into something meaningful because the phone display is generally out of sight. 

But a watch, for those of us who are still woefully out of date, sits on our wrists and we can quickly bring it up into eye level even if our hands are holding something or while driving. We’ve explored wrist cell phones several times, but the displays had a tendency to wash out, they were very expensive, tended to be a bit bulky, and were far from attractive.  Evidently there are a number of them available mostly out of China today and they are kind of fun, if very limited. 

However, what I’m leading toward is something more something more like a blend of a smartphone and tablet that you would wear on your wrist. More of a “Smart Gauntlet,” a name that might appeal to men but women might struggle with. 

Smart Gauntlet

HP is developing one of these for the U.S. military, and it is a tablet that is wearable on the wrist. It has a large -- up to 5 inches -- display, much larger than a phone but smaller than most tablets (other than the initial Dell Streak) and it sports an outdoor viewable flexible color touch display. Now in military form, it is used by soldiers in the field to monitor troop movements, provide location information, communications (both verbal and text-based), provide medical information (dehydration, alert on injury, etc.) and help commanders in the field better coordinate attacks and defense. 

However, much of this could be applied to us. We are already starting to see location-aware applications, which could point us to cheap gas, food, or even alert us of a traffic problem or impending disaster (a tornado alert, for instance, would be nice for many). Navigation on a bike or motorcycle could be better on the wrist for most but the very largest of touring motorcycles, and being able to alert out if we are injured or get immediate information on blood pressure or blood sugar levels critical to many of us would be beneficial.

This could literally become the one device we couldn’t live without and one of the big bridges between the people and the devices we use on our way to man/machine integration. Fortunately it isn’t that big of a step because I’m not going under the knife to install a new anything anytime soon, at least not voluntarily. But generations after ours will undoubtedly be far less squeamish.

Wrapping Up: Waiting for the Birth of the Superwatch

While I doubt HP and Fossil will have much more success than Microsoft and Fossil had a few ago with Spot, I do think that HP is onto something with their military gauntlet. Let’s call it a “Superwatch,” and it will show up on the battlefield first. But I think it has a huge potential to replace the tablets and smartphones of today with something vastly more useful, a device that takes the ideas of yesterday (the watch) blends them with the ideas of today (smartphone/tablet) and creates the next big wave of tomorrow -- the Superwatch, er, Super Gauntlet… OK, we’ll work on the name until then. Now if it can only be made to shoot lasers!  

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group. To read more of his articles on TechZone360, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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