I’ve been struggling to find the “killer” use case for smart watches since the Pebble was announced. Sure, these devices offer easier access to notifications and, you know, the time, but besides that they’ve always seemed like a “dumbwatch” — that’s a thing now, right? — with Bluetooth and a bulky screen. Thalmic Labs changed that with yesterday’s announcement of MYO, an armband that promises to help users “wave goodbye to camera based gesture control.”
MYO senses electrical activity in its users’ muscles (which sounds horrifyingly awesome) and combines that input with traditional motion sensors to translate gestures into actions. A promotional video shows the device being used to steer a remote-controlled helicopter, pause, play, and rewind videos, and control a videogame, among a variety of other functions. It is currently available for pre-order at $149, and Thalmic Labs has a developer API that will ostensibly extend MYO’s functionality even further.
Now, MYO is meant to be worn around the forearm just below the elbow, and so wouldn’t qualify for the “smart watch” title, but it isn’t hard to imagine similar technology making its way to smaller, wrist-worn devices. And that’s exciting.
Smart watches and other wrist-worn products are currently passive devices. They aren’t used to accomplish a goal, they’re used to silently gather information — as is the case with fitness-based devices, like Nike FuelBand, Jawbone Up, and others –or inform the wearer that something has happened with another device, as with Pebble and other smart watches. They’re essentially glorified pedometers or Bluetooth headsets that happen to convey information via text instead of sound.
MYO is an active device. Instead of simply gathering or conveying information to another device, MYO promises to allow users to control their computers, consoles, and the like with a flick of the wrist. And, unlike Microsoft’s Kinect or Leap Motion, it does so without cameras, which can be obscured and can drain a device’s battery.
That, to me, seems like a much better feature than the ability to see that I’ve received three emails in ten minutes or that my fiancee texted me. My smartphone already does those things, and it does them in a way that can be easily ignored or acted upon, depending on the situation. Or, as Stephen Hackett put it, “The beauty of the iPhone is that you can leave it in your pocket.”
But the ability to swipe through Netflix or Hulu Plus without having to wait for my iPhone or iPad to connect to my Apple TV, or being able to control a computer without having to swipe and click on a trackpad every two seconds? That seems like some Minority Report -level shit. (Pardon my cliché.)
I don’t want Apple to build an iWatch that will simply tell me everything that my iPhone’s lock screen already displays. I don’t want to spend a hundred or more dollars on a device that does something I already paid at least $200 for a little bit better. But a device that can do those things and change the way we interact with all of the other devices in our lives sounds like a product worth purchasing.
[Image Credit: MYO]