Wearable Computing: Shoes, Bloks, and Boards

I have been thinking about Genevieve Bell’s recent statement: “Smartphones only got interesting when people stopped thinking of them as phones.” for the past couple days. This evening, while browsing Reddit, I came across a link to Dominic Wilcox’s “No Place Like Home GPS Shoes.” Now, the shoes definitely remain shoes…but Wilcox’s prototype is interesting in that it put existing technologies into a familiar form with an innovative result.

Going back to Bell for a moment:

It will become much more interesting when we let go of [old metaphors of computation] and work out the promise that wearable computing will make to us. To me the wearables space is so nascent that we haven’t worked out what the promises are yet. We haven’t quite liberated ourselves to take advantage of all the really interesting technical stuff that’s happening.

I think that the irony here is that miniaturization that enables the existence of the modern smart phone opens the door to modular systems that could advance wearable computing save for the small issue that the technologies are often considered in the context of, well, phones (now glasses as well). My thinking here is really driven by the idea of Phonebloks:

I love the idea of Phonebloks. That said, I think the real opportunity here is when we do not think of the Phonebloks’ baseplate as being part of a “phone,” but rather think of the Phonebloks components as things to be hacked together in unexpected ways in unexpected places.

What happens when they are part of a jacket, hat, piece of jewelry, or (to Wilcox’s point) shoes?

Likewise, what happens if Phonebloks were to be made compatible with the all of the different components made for Arduino boards?

Alternatively, how might these modular systems build on, complement, or interact with admittedly trippier modifications such as magnetic finger implants?

Deliberately setting out to create countless possibilities (rather than platforms) might allow us to focus more on the new “promises” (as Bell puts it) of wearable computing and less on existing (or old) metaphors.

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