The age of wearable devices has taken another step forward. On Tuesday, chipmaker Broadcom announced it was embedding Wi-Fi Direct into its Systems-on-a-Chip platform for wearable products, providing another means of connectivity for such possible products as jewelry with proximity detection, helmets with action cameras and bracelets used to automatically lock or unlock doors.
The platform is called Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices or WICED, and it is designed to simplify connectivity for the nascent market of wearable computing devices. With the addition of Wi-Fi Direct into the platform, WICED now also features standard Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, near-field communication (NFC) and location-sensing technology. Wi-Fi Direct allows two devices to talk to each other, directly and securely, without an intervening access point or a computer.
This week, Samsung confirmed rumors that it will be unveiling its Galaxy Gear smart watch on Sept. 4, and Apple and other major electronics companies are expected to follow with similar wrist-based devices in the coming months. But this is potentially only the first wave of powerful, small devices that individuals wear instead of carry or use on a desktop.
15 Million this Year
According to a report in January from Juniper Research, nearly 15 million wearable smart devices are expected to be sold this year, growing to almost 70 million by 2017. Many, like smart watches, will be designed as companion, subordinate pieces for other devices, such as smartphones or tablets.
Rahul Patel, Broadcom Vice President for Marketing in Wireless Connectivity Combos, said in a statement that "the value of the wearable device lies in its ability to connect to a smartphone or the Internet with minimal impact on battery life."
This dependence between a wearable device and a more powerful smartphone or tablet could grow less and less as the wearables become more powerful, including possibly, someday, their own 3G or 4G capability.
Young People 'Don't Wear Watches'
Broadcom pointed out that NFC allows a new wearable device to be connected to a smartphone simply by tapping them together, without the need for complex configurations. Wearables offer a wide range of potential use cases, such as continual blood pressure monitoring and other health oriented functions. With the addition of location technology, doctors can readily track patients in clinical or other environments, for instance.
Michael McGuire, an analyst with industry research firm Gartner, told us the irony with the most visible of the potential wearables is a kind of watch, given that "young people don't wear watches these days."
He described himself as "somewhat skeptical" about the appeal of, essentially, taking the remote-locking car keys and "creating a piece of jewelry out of it." But McGuire acknowledged that embedded, connected chipsets could mean the "smartification" of a variety of common devices, such as the current example of the Nest smart thermostat.