At one of the world’s biggest computer shows this week, developers are conceding they have reached a technological plateau with new tablets or PCs. So to stand out, some 60 exhibitors at Computex Taipei displayed wearable electronics, such as watches and bracelets.
Flagship Taiwanese PC maker Acer surprised this year’s Computex Taipei computer show with the display of a smart armband. The device, codenamed Liquid Leap, can relay text messages, access music on smartphones and calculate calories burned during exercise. Acer is known globally for PCs but has struggled financially over the past year and wants to diversify.
Manuel Linnig, the company’s Europe spokesman, sees risk as well as opportunity.
“I know wearable is very fashionable at the moment. We’ll have to see how sustainable it is, so we’re trying it now with one device to test the market. Is it also something that will still be there next year? But now is the moment to try because people are open to trying that. It’s new and there are enough players offering devices so people that start to understand and learn about it,” said Linnig.
Acer’s armband will go on sale this year, packaged at first with a mobile phone at prices to be announced. Cross-town rival Asustek Computer and local smartphone developer HTC plan to release wearables by year’s end.
This week, smaller developers dominated the showroom floor. GuiderCare of Taipei showed watches that can detect falls and send out messages, ideal for elderly people living alone. The developer will ship 10,000 watches at the end of June and plans to charge about $300 for each one. Martian Watches, also of Taiwan, showed $129 watches that send voice commands to tablets or smartphones. They’re on shelves now in Taipei. A government research agency came out with glasses that allow remote interaction, through hand signals, with computers up to 200 meters away. There’s no price tag or release date yet.
Prices for wearables remain relatively high. Many devices cost more than low-end smartphones with the same functions and more. Prices may exceed $1,000 as major brands such as Apple and Sony look to release their own watches packed with applications, possibly this year.
Analysts say most of the two-year-old technology is still full of bugs. Devices lack must-have applications, power-saving batteries and fashionable looks that will bring in consumers. Many are aimed only at sportspeople, such as cyclists, who cannot easily check mobile phones during workouts. Most require smartphones or tablets as base stations.
But in Taiwan, a world hardware center, developers believe they know how to grow. Huang Han-tang, an official with the Computex organizing body, said wearables are a logical extension of other electronic devices.
He said hardware has gone from desktops to notebooks and in the past few years shifted to handheld devices, tablets and smartphones. In the past two years, he said, Taiwan developers have discovered those devices can be made even smaller and lighter. Now, everyone thinks the most easily attainable goal is to move from handheld devices to wearable devices.
Market research firm IDC says just 9.2 million wearables will ship this year, but by 2018 the market will grow to 112 million units.