2014: Big brand report cards – traditional tech powerhouses

At the end of the academic year, we see how the big brands are shaping up
2014: Big brand report cards

It’s the end of the Wareable academic year and before the classmates move up to the next grade, let’s have a moment to take stock of what the big tech brands have achieved in this space in 2014.

2014: Wearable tech review of the year

Enclosed you’ll find their report cards where we’ve marked their performance in certain key areas pertaining to their vision, their creativity and how well they’ve managed to deliver on that theoretical promise in actual, physical terms. Well done to those who’ve passed; a little more elbow grease required from the also-rans.

Google

Some reasonable effort. Would do well to remove head from the clouds.

Products

Google’s obsession with Android Wear has come to the detriment of its Glass platform. While the former appears to have flourished in 2014, the AR experience of the latter has moved on only incrementally after a promising start to the year; mind in neutral, thumb up bum. B-

Innovation

All the same, it’s hard to fault the dreamy goals of Glass even if it has been walking around with its head in the cloud up until this point. Fortunately, Google’s efforts with Android Wear have been far more pragmatic and though it might lack vision, its ideas have helped many fellow classmates along with products of their own. A-

Design

Google’s work is rarely as presentable as it could be but we’re pleased to see that it has enlisted the help of its peers in order to make up for this black hole in aesthetic consideration. Some may consider it cheating but there has been no direct evidence of plagiarism and we’re happy to chalk this one up as the gumption to think on one’s feet and the advantage of leveraging the family fortune. All the same, we’re looking for more in this department in the coming year. C

Apple

How nice of Apple to honour us with its presence this year! We only had to wait until the summer term.

Products

Late, as ever, with work, Apple still hasn’t officially handed in a single project. As usual, there have been some very pretty looking prototypes and promises of: “Oh but sir it will be best one in the world” but, for the time being, we really have little choice than an unclassified grade until when the Apple Watch finally arrives on our desk. U

Innovation

It remains to be seen quite how effective many of the Apple Watch “innovations” will be outside of school but dreaming up remote communication through vibration and the use of the digital crown for purposes of OS navigation are both highly impressive. Is there any help coming from home? A-

Design

Apple’s work in the design department has been typically impressive. Proving now able to work with a host of precious metals - alongside the predictable white plastic and aluminium - we’ve been exceedingly pleased to note how well this student has grasped the task at hand - i.e. making a device that people actually want to wear. While the look might not be as futuristic as others have deemed suitable, what we have is a fine example of classical horology design and one that we fully expect to be up in front of the headmaster for all the right reasons. Well done, Apple. A

Samsung

Very big, and actually quite clever.

Products

We still haven’t managed to iron out Samsung’s irksome habit of trying to please everyone but we suppose pleasing somebody is better than pleasing nobody at all. Despite the obvious translation into wearables of the ongoing mission of creating a screen for all occasions, 2014 has actually been rather productive and successful. Samsung has been quicker than its classmates to pick up the smartwatch concept and even taken some important steps into the virtual world through Samsung Gear VR - even if Oculus did all the hard work. Enterprising at the least. B+

Innovation

What Samsung might lack in imagination, it makes up for in timeliness. Rarely late to class and quick with homework, it has managed to bring forth just about every innovation possible in 2014, if with the suspicion of copying from some of the smaller classmates. Optical heart-rate sensors, Android Wear, sleep tracking and standalone, SIM-based features have all been included but it’s Samsung’s own forward thinking with Tizen OS and the highly intriguing, curve-screened Gear S that’s impressed us the most. It seems stubbornness can be a virtue. B+

Design

We’re still waiting for more refinement in Samsung’s work but this year has certainly been an improvement on the last and at no expense of gusto. As ever, we’d like to see more care taken over shaping the quality materials chosen into something of greater delicacy and pulchritude. These are not television sets but supposedly items of fashion. We somehow doubt much of this design would appeal to the fairer sex at present. C

LG

Lucky, gold star. Perhaps not so lucky next year.

Products

LG has some clear aptitude for wearable products but its early successes with the LG G Watch R have caused it to rest on its laurels in late 2014. Granted, we did get the other Android Wear smartwatch, the G Watch, but it’s hard to see this device than much more than a quick toe in the market. Fortunately, the G Watch R itself has proved one of the best products in the class even if it has allowed some laziness to creep in. A-

Innovation

LG’s innovation has been minimal. A little less time spent fighting with Samsung and copying Motorola, and more hard hours put into R&D would be useful if 2015 is to offer more wow-factor. So far, un-wowed. D

Design

Whether by accident or entirely by design, LG has hit upon something marvellous with the G Watch R. It’s the most “normal” looking smartwatch in the class and, currently, that’s what creates the biggest excitement in wrist-worn wearables. It has a generic man-watch appeal that the other students seem to be impressed by even if all we see is a fused bezel with sports watch aspirations. B

Microsoft

Annus horribilis.

Products

The bear minimum is all that Microsoft seemed interested in producing this year. The student’s interests obviously lie elsewhere. As a result, all we got was a cursory nod to the world of wearables with something as obvious an activity tracker that really offered little more than any other classmate had already created. The only selling point was that it works nicely with Windows Phone. Not enough to pass this course. E

Innovation

The Microsoft Band had some nice ideas on paper but didn’t quite reach the heights under final examination that it managed in the mocks. A built-in GPS tracker to record runs without the need for a smartphone, and having pre-programmed workouts from the likes of Gold’s Gym, are excellent innovations. Sadly, much of the year was spent looking out of the window and away with the fairies. I only hope Microsoft manages to pay more attention in its other classes. C-

Design

This lesson is entitled “wearable technology” and yet Microsoft has failed to grasp even the most important fundamental of this phrase. The Microsoft Band is large, uncomfortable and one of the least wearable devices ever produced in our school. Precious consideration to wrist ergonomics and even less to aesthetic appeal all point towards a rushed job. It might be best if Microsoft repeated the year. D

Intel

Innovative and highly organised. Will go far.

Products

Intel has excelled itself throughout 2014 and should be incredibly proud of what it has achieved in this relatively short time. Granted, there’s been little hard product actually on show in class but the MICA smart bracelet is available for pre-order and in an entirely different field to anything the other students have produced. It’s been a delight to see a wearable where the fashion side of things has come first. We look forward to seeing how it performs at a functional level. A

Innovation

It’s perhaps Intel’s creativity, and creativity by proxy, that’s been most impressive this year. From the very first class, we saw the Edison tiny wearable computer and the promise of a smartwatch that runs on its own SIM. The biggest stroke of academic genius, however, was in the arrival of the ‘Make it Wearable’ competition to encourage innovation from everyone else. It has spawned mood-sensing dresses, wrist-mounted camera drones and the high admiration of Wareable. A

Design

From the aesthetics of MICA to the intricacies of Edison, it’s clear that Intel has been all about design in 2014. It may not have been the company’s strong suit but it has teamed up with others well and learned to cooperate so effectively that traditional luxury watchmakers like Tag are now hustling to join forces. We can’t say we expected much from Intel in this class. We’re pleased to see that it’s proved us utterly wrong. A

Motorola

Slacker but impressive when the mood takes it.

Products

Motorola’s laziness is second only to its genius. It is often the more able students that seldom go on to reach the wearable heights that perhaps their talents deserve. The Moto 360 made smartwatches worth wearing in 2014. While Apple was still making its mind up, Motorola was already busy making this sector desirable. It might have just seemed like a pretty round face but there’s an undoubted appeal in this genuinely forward thinking piece of kit. Let’s hope we see more of the same in 2015. A-

Innovation

Motorola has been something of a one-trick-pony. Fortunately, that one trick has been a good one. Nonetheless, it’s hard to praise the Moto 360 for its innovation given that Google made the operating system. Still, if making smartwatches round was all it took to inspire a craze, then who are we to mock simplicity? B-

Design

The excitement may have been about the face shape of the Moto 360 but it’s actually a very attractive device from top to bottom. Although aped, in many ways, quite poorly by LG, Motorola’s version is a bold and attractive piece of design. The thick, brushed metal casing contrasts wonderfully with the thin leather strap to produce a futuristic look rather than anything familiar or retrospective. Just a pity Motorola handed it in in the autumn and then chose to play truant the rest of the year. B+

Sony

Plenty of hard work. Not all of it good, though.

Products

Possibly the busiest bee in class, we must say that we’re surprised at the fervor with which Sony has grabbed onto the wearable concept this year. There’s been quite the glut of different projects even if not all of them have hit the mark. Morpheus has made a decent splash in the VR pond, there’s been some notable ripples in the wristwear pool with the highly impressive SmartWatch 3 of late and the OLED AR glasses clip looks set to disturb Google’s Glass waters.If one were being critical, which, unfortunately for Sony, one is, there’s something of a throwing enough at the wall to see what sticks attitude. Nonetheless, it looks as if Sony’s ideas are getting considerably stickier. B+

Innovation

While a decent Android Wear watch is highly commendable, innovative it is not. Most of the class has managed to crank out one of those in 2014. Much the same can be said of Sony’s fairly tiresome aping of the fitness band craze. What does show a great deal of creative promise, though, are the bolder moves of this large and fairly traditional entity. Sony’s been willing to look a fool in front of its peers in fashioning a head-mounted display, tennis swing analyser and an e-paper watch. We eagerly await next term’s Smart EyeGlass attachment. Good show. B+

Design

There’s been some steady progress in the physical appeal of its devices. Watch and band aesthetics have been too easily overshadowed by the work of other classmates but at least Sony has begun to sense where the limelight might be in the latter half of the year with the promise of this e-paper wearable. It’s a surprising weakness given the high praise for design received in other tech disciplines. We trust we’ll find more focus here in 2015. C+

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