Rumors swirled throughout the year, without any definitive proof, that Microsoft, Google, and Apple were all working on smart watches. But the world’s largest smartphone maker, Samsung, did launch a smart watch called the Galaxy Gear, which has the processing power of a smartphone and even a 1.9-megapixel camera. Qualcomm, which makes more smartphone processors than any other company, also launched a smart watch.Called the Toq, it features a novel display technologythat borrows a trick from butterfly wings to display crisp colors even in bright light.
Two employees working on Google Glass gave MIT Technology Review their takes on what it was like to live with the device. Wearable-computing pioneer Thad Starner, a Georgia Tech professor and technical lead on the project, said that the device offers a “killer existence.” Mary Lou Jepsen, who works on display technology for Google’s secretive Google X division, said that Glass had become deeply embedded into her life, describing it as “a way of amplifying you.”
Several small companies showed off products inspired by Google Glass in 2013, and some of them may point to what this type of gadget will do in the future. One startup, Meta, teamed up with Steve Mann, a researcher who built some of the first wearable displays and computers, to make glasses that include a 3-D camera and can sense the wearer’s gestures. Another startup, Atheer Labs, showed a similar device with depth sensing and the ability to overlay 3-D imagery onto a person’s vision. Starner revealed an even quirkier technology being developed with academic colleagues: awearable device for dogs, called FIDO.
Notable improvements were also made in 2013 to better-established computer designs. The 41-megapixel camera that Nokia added to one smartphone showed that big strides can still be made in mobile cameras. And Apple and Motorola both launched smartphones with chips inside, intended to improve their ability to understand a person’s activities and needs. Apple’s version is a motion-sensing chip in the new iPhone that should allow for smarter fitness tracking and help apps guess at things like whether you are driving or walking, so that they know whether to interrupt. Motorola’s new Moto X phone launched with a processor optimized to listen out for voice commands at all times.
Meanwhile, a growing realization that conventional computers are poorly matched to tasks such as understanding images and other messy data led major technology companies to invest in efforts to reinvent their basic design.