Computex: Google Glass rival and other wearable tech seek sales
- 5 June 2014
- From the section Technology
On the floor of Asia's biggest tech show, a Taiwanese company is trying to pull off what would be one of the industry's greatest upsets.
A hitherto obscure maker of memory chips and network equipment, ChipSip, has nabbed Computex's Best Choice award for a pair of smart glasses that aim to steal the market away from Google Glass.
It would be the greatest coup since China's Lenovo, another company from this part of the world, overtook Hewlett-Packard in PC sales.
In its favour, ChipSip is targeting a $500 (£300) retail price for its SiMEye - pronounced "see me" - Smart Glass kit, which is a third of the sum Google is currently charging early adopters in the US.
ChipSip touts its ability to download Android apps direct from Google's Play Store via SiMEye's user interface. By contrast Glass requires an owner to first download an app via another Android device before it can be transferred to the eyewear.
And SiMEye can also capture video in 1080p, four times the resolution of it rival.
The firm's marketing chief Fenny Chen tells the BBC the gadget is currently being trialled by US, European and Japanese testers, and is on course to go into production later this year.
There's certainly a buzz around the company's stand at Computex.
But before ChipSip gets to declare a true David victory over Google's Goliath, there are several caveats to bear in mind.
There's no escaping it: SiMEye comes across as a bit of a clunky copycat.
It lacks voice controls at this stage, there's no bone conduction audio - meaning you need to stick headphones in your ears rather than enjoy Google's trick of having sound pumped through your skull, and its oversized nose rest only makes the concept even more unsightly.
There is a good reason for the size of that nose piece - at present, the weight of the visual display and sidearm touchpad can cause the device to tilt somewhat precariously to one side.
In fairness, most of these are issues the firm still has time to refine.
Google itself has only just rolled out alternative frames to make Glass more appealing, and the Silicon Valley giant is also providing earbuds for users who have struggled with its bone conduction solution.
ChipSip may have a very high hill to climb, but one tech watcher says it's far too soon to think Google has secured the sector.
"The market is wide open - I've seen a lot of these things out there and they all have their challenges," says Ken Dulaney, an analyst at tech research firm Gartner.
"There's the issue of how you design it with decent battery life while keeping it lightweight.
"You have the concern about having two planes of view when you're walking.
"And as you start to see smartphones get thinner and you get smartbands, the question is: does having something you wear in front of your eyes really matter that much?"
One Taiwanese company taking a radically different approach to head gear is View Phone.
Rather than try to overlay information over your field of vision, its PhoneStation kit aims to immerse its wearers in 3D movies and games.
Its trick is not to build new display tech from scratch, but to create a cheaper case into which you slot your existing smartphone and use its lenses to focus on the handset's suspended screen, mimicking the effect of looking at a much bigger display from a distance.
It might sound like a bit of a gimmick, but if a report from tech blog Engadget proves true, Facebook's Oculus Rift division is working on something similar with Samsung's handset unit to bring a budget version of virtual reality to the masses.
For those looking for alternative types of wearable tech, a hunt round Computex's 5,000 other booths delivers.
Acer may have attracted most of the headlines with the Liquid Leap - a fitness-tracking wristband with a slim touch display that is waterproof and can link up to smartphones to show call notifications.
But another Taiwanese firm - Guidercare - is taking a potentially more interesting approach with a model targeted at the elderly that launches next month.
The Carewatch is designed to gather health data - such as blood pressure and glucose levels - through add-on devices, that it then uploads to an app that can be viewed by a caregiver.
In addition, it features a panic button that when pressed sends out an SOS alert to the carer's phone, telling them of the wearer's location and allowing the OAP to speak to them via the watch's built-in 2G chip.
The idea, says the firm, is to allow the owner to remain independent right up to the moment they most need help.
Watch with a leash
Those looking for a more elegant approach might be more interested in the latest devices on show from California-based Martian Watches.
Its devices combine traditional clockwork faces with smart tech allowing them to run basic apps on their small readout displays and to accept voice commands
The high-end Passport model even recognises gestures. For example, if the user decides not to take a call, he or she can literally "shake it off" and the Bluetooth-connected smartphone will stop ringing. Another practical feature is the "leash" function, which makes the watch beep if the phone goes out of range, signalling it may have been left behind.
The biggest problem facing the firm is that it is selling the tech for $299, restricting its appeal.
While that might be a fraction of the price of other luxury watches, most buyers will be aware that the wearable tech sector is still in its early stages.
With the likelihood of new, better models at the next big tech showcases - Berlin's Ifa in September, and then CES in January - and talk of Apple, Microsoft and others getting involved, even tech savvy shoppers may want to put off wearable tech purchases at this point.
The challenge for manufacturers is to pack in enough features and offer a low enough price tag that they can overcome this inertia, and perhaps even woo more mainstream consumers.