Will Texas Instruments Power Your Next Watch?

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Consumers may not be quite ready for wearable computers, but watch-maker Fossil, along with Texas Instruments, thinks the time is near. The Fossil project, known as Meta Watch, brings a “wearable development system aimed at inspiring the next generation of connected-watch applications.”¬†The Meta Watch will cost $200 when it arrives in July and is powered by TI’s MSP430 ultra-low-power microcontroller¬†and Bluetooth chip.

Meta Watch will be available in either an analog or a digital option, both of which have OLED informational displays. Both are packed with smartphone-like sensors and motors as well; inside the water-resistant stainless steel case is a vibrating motor, a three-axis accelerometer and an ambient light sensor. Like any platform, developers will have to create intelligent applications to tie the watch to a smartphone. Since the Meta Watch will be shown off in the Google I/O Developer Sandbox next week, it’s likely that Android handsets will be among the first to benefit.

This isn’t the first time that Fossil has dabbled with intelligent watches. Back in 2004, I purchased a SPOT watch built by Fossil that used FM radio to get information through Microsoft’s MSNDirect service to my wrist. The SPOT watches have since been discontinued and Microsoft is deactivating the service as more effective devices and data delivery methods have appeared in the form of smartphones and mobile broadband networks. I stopped wearing a watch as I transitioned from my SPOT watch to a handset, but I’m still intrigued by the idea of the Meta Watch and other similar devices.

The concept of these devices has merit, at least to me and likely anyone else that carries a smartphone in their pocket. Instead of simply telling time, a smart watch can act as a secondary display for another device like handset or tablet. Using low-powered wireless technology such as Bluetooth, these watches can show text messages, caller ID information, important emails and calendar event reminders. More advanced functionality that allows true interaction — say replying to a text message through voice recognition — isn’t out the realm of future opportunities. And there’s no need to pull out the smartphone for this type of interaction.

So far, however, the current crop of these smarter watches have been troubled with wireless connectivity issues, based on the many reviews I’ve read. I was about to pull the trigger on either Sony’s Live View (shown) or an InPulse watch for use with my Android phone, but many owners complain that the Bluetooth connection exhibits dropped connections.

Hopefully, the Bluetooth solution from TI eliminates that problem, so I can just glance at my wrist instead of firing up the smartphone just to check emails and Facebook updates. Maybe I feel this way just because I’m reading Ray Kurzweil’s book “The Singularity Is Near, but I’m ready for wearable computing devices.

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