Well what an incredible year this has been for new technologies. Wearables seem to be taking off – except for Google Glass which seems to be dying a slow death. At this stage it seems that wrist worn devices are the way to go.
At the start of the year the only real wearable options were the Pebble smartwatch which we covered in a previous article. This works very well with the iPhone – slightly less so with Android because it only tells you that an email has been received not what is says. Also available was the Galaxy Gear watch – which only works with Samsung devices. The latest model was the first wearable to include a heart rate monitor – a trend we will see much more of.
In March Google announced Android Wear – providing a common platform for Android manufacturers to use for their wearables. The first of these devices were released mid-year by Samsung and LG. Reasonably useful – but not going to win any style points for sure! Things are looking up though with the recent release of the Moto360 and the Asus Zenwatch which are must less ‘geek’ and far more ‘chic’.
We have also started to see some of the fitness tracker devices evolve into something more sophisticated. Fitbit have a few new devices ranging from a fashion bracelet through to a smartwatch with heart rate sensing. One of the most interesting new devices – which currently only works with Android – is the Sony Smartband Talk which is a crossover fitness tracker/watch/notifier. It uses epaper – used in the Pebble – which leads to a longer lasting battery and excellent outdoor visibility. Its real party trick though is that it works well as a bluetooth phone hands free – its actually quite loud!
Of course the elephant in room is the Apple Watch which is to be released in the northern spring of 2015. This will likely have a cooling effect on any competition for the next few months – consumers will want to wait for the Apple Watch before deciding what to buy! What benefits this watch will have over others we have yet to see – but rumour has it that the price may be prohibitive ranging from US$350 for the plastic model up to many thousands for the gold. If the latter is true I suspect Apple may introduce some sort of lease or trade-in scheme – either that or it will only be seen on the wrists of the obscenely profligate who can afford a new one on Apple’s yearly upgrade cycle.
We have also seen a lot of variety in phones this year – although I tend to believe that the market is maturing. With the HTC One M8 it was more of the same – beautifully crafted phone let down by a ho-hum camera. The Galaxy S5 was a bit of a yawn – its a good solid phone but nothing to write home about! A couple of phones this year have gone for the ridiculously high resolution screens – namely the LG G3, the Galaxy Note 4 and the recently launched Nexus 6. There is no doubt that the quality of these screens is noticeably better – but they also use up the battery more quickly and I’m not sure its worth the trade off. That said – the battery life of the Note 4 is still pretty good lasting a full day at least.
The one standout that I would mention on the Android side is the Sony Z3 (and Z3 Compact). These are beautifully crafted devices with good cameras, excellent battery life and a classy looking Android skin. When other manufacturers have made ‘compact’ or ‘mini’ versions of their devices – they have always been stripped down in some way. Not so for the Sony Z3 Compact. This is the same phone as the larger model – with the small exception that the screen resolution is not so high – but then its smaller anyway so you don’t notice!
Software wise the latest version of Android, Lollipop, will make its way to Android devices in coming months. The main change is a new set of design rules called Material Design which makes Android look much classier. Google have already updated most of their own apps using this new design language and it is a major step forward. Lollipop also brings decent lock screen notifications to Android – similar to those found on the iPhone.
In September Apple brought forth their new iPhone 6 and finally seem to have understood that consumers would like some choice with the option of larger devices. The regular iPhone 6 is probably the perfect size device at 4.7 inches, although the iPhone 6 Plus with a 5.5 inch screen is great for travelling and on short trips you can leave your tablet/computer at home.
iOS 8 was launched at the same time and brings much more flexible app integration and sharing capabilities – akin to Android devices as well as a pull-down notification screen with widgets. One of the coolest new functions of iOS 8 kicks in when you also have a Mac computer running the new Yosemite Operating System. It is called Continuity and it means that you can make and receive calls – plus send and receive SMS – on your iPad or Mac THROUGH the iPhone as long as you are on the same WiFi network. It also means that you can remotely activate the Internet Hotspot on the iPhone from the computer – a little thing but one that really enhances the user experience.
Finally a dark horse tip. I have been playing the the new Blackberry Passport. Its a bit of a weird device – but there is something appealing about it – and it runs Android apps! Many pundits consider Blackberry out of the game – perhaps its too soon to give up on them!
January brings us the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show and a whole new year of gadgets and toys to play with. I can’t wait!