How Wearable computing could take off

The 1"x1" WIN One shown here is an Android-powered wrist computer.After decades of tech evolution consistent with Moore’s Law, you can now wear a $3.5 million mainframe computer on your wrist. The WIMM One is much faster than the IBM System/370 Model 158-3 mainframe that I worked on in the 1970’s, and in some ways it’s better. It’s got sensors, an accelerometer, and wireless connections to connect with other digital devices and remote services. So, it’s not just a wristwatch; it’s also a wrist-doc that can monitor, track and report vital signs to help keep you healthy.

I’ve already written several articles about the role of smartphones in healthcare, including:

But now here’s an Android-based wearable computer that complements the smartphone, tablet, PC and medical devices you may already have. It’s just entering the market now but points to what we may expect — wearable devices that are always with you to unobtrusively monitor your activity, sleeping patterns and vital signs such as heart rate.

The $199 WIMM One offers a 160-by-160 touch screen and a small set of pre-loaded apps including a variety of watch faces, a calculator, and a game. Wireless communication via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (no cellular) can connect the device to your phone to sync with your calendar and provide notifications from your social networks. As a plug-in module, it’s not limited to a wristwatch. The company also envisions wearable motion sensors for exercise tracking and a wearable EKG machine that you wear when you leave the hospital to monitor your heart rate and send an alert if your heart rate goes above an acceptable level.

Back in 2004, Microsoft and partners Fossil and Swatch introduced SPOT watches based on its Smart Personal Objects Technology. They offered news feeds, local weather and a variety of black & white watch faces, but they were thick, clunky and relied on the FM radio network for data. Microsoft shut down the SPOT project in 2009.

Apple also has a wearable, the iPod Nano (YouTube video), which has a bigger screen and is thinner than the WIMM One. But Nano lacks the wireless radios; you can’t add apps; and you have to tether it to a computer. Nano does have a built-in accelerometer to monitor your activity and upload the data to the Nike+ website, but it does not yet measure heart. Apple does, however, offer a lineup of 18 watch faces that varies from Mickey Mouse and Kermit the Frog to traditional analog and digital styles. As you’d expect, Nano’s main purpose is playing music from iTunes and FM radio.

The future implication of smart sensors, wearable computers, smartphones, wireless networks, and remote computing services in the Internet cloud is inspiring and exciting to me as a technologist, and it’s the basis of some of the talks I give. Where I used to start my Beyond the PC presentation by comparing the digital processing processing power of my Philips Sonicare toothbrush to the IBM mainframe I worked on years ago, I can now add the WIMM wrist-computer to my list of examples.


As written in Forecasts for the Future of Healthcare, consider the labor and healthcare implicatio­ns of extending Moore’s Law out 50 years since these futurist prediction­s could all happen in our lifetime. According to Ray Kurzweil:

  • By 2013, a supercompu­ter will have the reasoning and processing capacity of the Human Brain;
  • By 2023, a $1,000 home computer will have that power, and by 2037, a $0.01 embedded computer will; AND…
  • By 2049, a $1,000 computer will have the power of the human RACE, and by 2059, a $0.01 computer will.

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