Wearable tech isn’t exactly new

But the boom has only just begun.

Wearable tech has been a hotly debated subject lately. Innovations like Google Glass have made watches, shoes and other accessories a popular commodity, once they’re upgraded with various types of communicative technology. At the moment, the market for wearable tech has a value of $3-5 billion. But according to a new report from the European banking giant Credit Suisse, the market value for wearable tech will grow ten-fold within the next 3-5 years.

Now, wearable tech isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. We’ve been wearing digital watches since 1970, and they’ve since grown to include various functions such as online chatting and cameras. In recent years, wristbands with diverse functions such as unlocking mechanisms for cars and homes, as well as measuring your pulse or counting the amount of steps you’ve taken in a day, have become a popular accessory for the tech-wise. The latest invention is the Google Glass project, which promises to translate your voice if you need to ask anything in Chinese, give you the answers to curious questions and show the way in case you get lost. All through a slim pair of interactive glasses.

Its no surprise then that two of Silicon Valley’s biggest names, including Apple’s Tim Cook, only last week surmounted that wearable tech is an interesting market at the moment.

Famed venture capitalist and internet trend guru, Mary Meeker, even went so far as to call wearable tech the next big thing.

With developments like these, Credit Suisse says the wearable tech market is on the verge of a sales boom. As such, the bank has recommended clients to invest in heavy hitters such as Apple and Google, as well as up-and-coming companies specialising in software and retail.

However, some people are still skeptical of the trend, pointing out that “big things” such as digital cameras, MP3’s and GPS’s are taking a back seat to the all-mighty smart-phone, which provides all functions in one gadget.

But according to Mary Meeker, wearable tech will likely pick up where the smartphone leaves off.

The average smartphone user checks their device 150 times a day. "What if you didn't have to do that?" Meeker asked at a recent convention, pointing out that the need for quick convenience might circumvent the digital equivalent to a Swiss army knife.  In this respect, a simple, wearable device with sensors could be the answer to our future needs.

However, as Tim Cook pointed out, there’s still a way to go, before iWatches and Google Glass can replace the smart-phone. For example, big data, which is the data-gathering technology used for such intuitive inventions, is still in the developmental phase. In the meantime, tech-companies need to consider that not everyone wants to wear glasses or a wristband if the functions aren’t exceptional compared to a smart-phone. So yes, I agree that wearable tech is an interesting development worth keeping your eyes and money on. But I’m not sure that the boom is quite there yet. Give it a year or two.

Photograph: Getty Images

Sandra Kilhof Nielsen is a freelance writer and former reporter for Retail Banker International, Cards International & Electronic Payments International.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear