Monday, April 28, 2014

Wearables As Client-Server Systems

Many reviews on wearable technology often sound disappointed that the devices do not do more. We have grown up with publications (comics) that use watches and other small devices capable of live audio and video conferencing from anywhere in the world. We expect standalone devices that are almost magical in their ability to handle heavy computing and communications on their own, at least until the bad guy finds one and smashes it with his heel.

I propose a different mindset. After all, long ago, computing was mostly a client-server technology. You had a VAX or UNIX server somewhere that allowed you to log in and use some cycles to check email, run programs, or manage files. The computing was all done from a central computer. Your terminal was simply there to make your work viewable.

Then, with the rise in desktop PCs, we gave each user the ability to do their own computing on their own machine anytime they needed.

Then we networked the machines, and added servers. For productive work environments, it simply made more sense to centralize file storage and share in the computing load. As Internet connections have become faster, we have moved to client-server model of old, except we call it "the cloud".

With the Cloud, all the computing is done on the server end. The client side is simply for presentation to the user. This is to say that as technology changes, it simply goes back and forth between local computing to client-server computing.

Our current mobile experience is similar to when desktops came out. Suddenly you have computing power in your hands. We tend to download and run apps on our handsets and tablets. We expect that they should run in offline mode.

Given the history of computing, I propose that our disappointment with wearable technology is mostly an unreasonable expectation of the technology. These peripheral devices are at the stage where they are simply information gathering and presentation devices. Your mobile device is the server. We should not expect that these devices have full computing capacity. If you wear a smart shirt, it's a far cry from wearing Iron Man's Mark VIII suit. We are simply not there yet.

It is better to see smart devices as ...well, dumb devices. They are dumb terminals. They perform very specific tasks reliably and report back to the server, your mobile device.

Now, even if we eliminated mobile devices, your wearable tech would report to your desktop. Or, if wearable tech were to access Wi-Fi directly, it would only report back to a cloud server somewhere.

What I am saying is that there are several iterations to go before our smart devices could be even remotely standalone devices. I think that so long as we see smart watches, activity monitors, or other smart devices as the dumb terminals they are, we can manage our expectations. I think it is reasonable to expect performance to improve in time; but, the few things that these devices do, they do well (one hopes). I think that should be our focus.

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