The deciding factor about what is going to be the next big thing is—at least a lot of the time—whether that the technology has reached the point where it’s useable by people other than the alpha geeks.
It appears that we’ve reached that point for wearables, as the three factors that matter most when dealing with them—size, battery life and communications—are starting to converge towards the stage where the devices are not just possible, but usable. People have been predicting wearables would be the next big thing for about as long as I’ve been involved in technology, but lately the predictions have become louder and more frequent.
Don Coleman talking at Maker Faire Bay Area 2014
However one of the factors that really making wearables possible is the growing popularity of Bluetooth Low Energy standard. While Bluetooth LE has relatively low data rates—realistically you’ll probably get around 0.25MBit/s throughput—but has been optimized for low power use, and designed to operate from simple lithium coin cell batteries, which makes it perfect for use in wearable devices.
Another advantage that Bluetooth LE has over its competition is that it doesn’t suffer from the “50% problem,” with support for the standard now available in both Android and iOS devices.
It’s also becoming a lot easier to build your own Bluetooth LE devices using off the shelf boards—like Adafruit’s nRF8001 breakout board—and there are a growing number of micro-controller platforms specifically aimed at the wearables market. There are also a number of small boards, for instance the Light Blue Bean, that are well tailored for use in wearable devices.
Guido Burger talking at Maker Faire Bay Area 2014
Designed around an ATmega 328P the BlueIOT is Arduino compatible and has an onboard accelerometer as well as UV and barometric sensors—there are also lots of examples showing how to use the board from TechBASIC and with Node Red. While it’s designed to go onto a breadboard, like the MetaWear, the BlueIOT is small enough to be worn and wearable projects to date include a smart watch and a open fitness tracker.
Which comes back to my point about technological maturity. Only a few years ago building something like a smart watch would have been impossible, now it’s something you can make yourself.